The Problems of Quickthink in the Internet Age

"In a famous and weirdly poignant scene toward the end of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Bowman, having nearly been sent to a deep-space death by the malfunctioning machine, is calmly, coldly disconnecting the memory circuits that control its artificial “ brain. “Dave, my mind is going,” HAL says, forlornly. “I can feel it. I can feel it.”

I can feel it, too. Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory." - Nicholas Carr, Is Google Making Us Stupid?"

With the explosion of information available at our fingertips through the Internet, we may be reading more and more - but thinking less and less. Blink aside, when we surf and flit rather than deep read, we're more susceptible to automatic responses for good or for ill.

I got thinking about all this because our teen said he wanted to know more about why people believe the things they do. This is a big topic of course and can be approached from many different directions, but as a starting point, we decided to read Influence by Cialdini and it looks to be a great read. In the first chapter, he introduces such common mistakes as expensive = good rule, Captainitis (if an expert says it, it must be true; e.g. in a famous WWIII crash how a copilot ended up crashing a plane because he thought a general had wanted him to lift the landing gear at that moment though he knew the plane was going too slow to fly), click-whirr (automatic) responding, and perceptual contrast (example: a realtor shows you a poor cheap house, a too expensive house, and then a middle house - leading you to buy it compared to the others). The lessons were so good, I had our daughter read it too. Then it made me think - why is this practical stuff not part of education?

As more and more of our reading shift to surfing and browsing rather than deep reading, seems like we should know more about what we're headed into and maybe make sure we get some regular practice at questioning our assumptions.

Another interesting read we discovered along the way: the full 99 cent Kindle edition of the 1841 classic Extraordinary Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. In it, we read the famous Tulipomania chapter and also looked at how some contemporary editorials comparing the Tulip bubble with the dot com bust.

Media Psychology Blog


  1. do you back up this quote??

    "With the explosion of information available at our fingertips through the Internet, we may be reading more and more - but thinking less and less."

    With no offense intended I feel obliged to comment that it seems an outlandish claim. The internet allows to look up information, to find the facts & opinions, to sift through the pro/con schools of thought on every imaginable topic -
    How can it be said this is causing a reduction in thought??

    To say we are "thinking less and less" is an opinion statement from a neuroscience point of view. In the opinion of this #NerdyNeuroGirl, it seems to me this article "The Problems of Quickthink in the Internet Age" should perhaps be suggesting that people evaluate and learn how to discern the valid from the invalid, the findings from the conjecture, the meaning from the nonsense rather than suggesting that one of the most readily accessible databank of knowledge in the modern age is causing us to think less.

  2. Hi NeuroGirl, Read the Is Google Making Us Stupid article. We think the author has a point. I'm not sure we get smarter and smarter just by reading little bits on different websites. Surfing can have good as well as bad ends, and regardless, we think that it's good to take stock every now and then and try to read deeply as well as superficially. That's the point of this brief telling you not to flit or surf, but also suggesting that varying your diet of reading (some long sustained works) may be good for you brain.