Imagine filling a bathtub with a thimble; that’s the challenge involved in moving information from working memory into long-term memory. On the Net, we face many information faucets, all going full blast. Our little thimble overflows as we rush from tap to tap. We transfer only a small jumble of drops from different faucets, not a continuous, coherent stream. When the load exceeds our mind’s ability to process and store it, we’re unable to retain the information or to draw connections with other memories.
The ability to scan and browse is as important as the ability to read deeply and think attentively. The problem is that skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought. Once a means to an end, a way to identify information for further study, it’s becoming an end in itself—our preferred method of both learning and analysis. Dazzled by the Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture.
We are evolving from cultivators of personal knowledge into hunters and gatherers in the electronic data forest.
Nicholas Carr, The Shallows