Archive for June 2nd, 2010

This Is Your Brain on the Internet, Part 2

June 2, 2010 @ 6:50 pm | Filed under:

At, author Nicholas Carr asserts that “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains”:

The Internet is an interruption system. It seizes our attention only to scramble it. There’s the problem of hypertext and the many different kinds of media coming at us simultaneously. There’s also the fact that numerous studies—including one that tracked eye movement, one that surveyed people, and even one that examined the habits displayed by users of two academic databases—show that we start to read faster and less thoroughly as soon as we go online. Plus, the Internet has a hundred ways of distracting us from our onscreen reading. Most email applications check automatically for new messages every five or 10 minutes, and people routinely click the Check for New Mail button even more frequently. Office workers often glance at their inbox 30 to 40 times an hour. Since each glance breaks our concentration and burdens our working memory, the cognitive penalty can be severe.

The penalty is amplified by what brain scientists call switching costs. Every time we shift our attention, the brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources. Many studies have shown that switching between just two tasks can add substantially to our cognitive load, impeding our thinking and increasing the likelihood that we’ll overlook or misinterpret important information. On the Internet, where we generally juggle several tasks, the switching costs pile ever higher.

The whole piece, which is well worth a read, is based on Carr’s new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Your Brain—the one mentioned in this recent post.

Could I be more self-conscious about including those hyperlinks? 😉

Too Many Books

June 2, 2010 @ 6:25 am | Filed under:

I keep thinking that’s it, I’m drawing a line, no new books until I’ve finished all the ones already here—but I can hardly finish the thought before the disclaimers come crowding in. Well, except review copies; wouldn’t want to stop those from coming. And there’s all those waiting lists I’m on at the library: #16 of 31 holds for The Weed that Strings the Hangman’s Bag; 48 out of 56 for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

And friends have new books coming out; I’ll want to read those.

And there’s that one book I keep hearing about everywhere lately, it seems—including, HELLO!, just now in the teaser from Nick Hornby’s June Believer column. (Sigh—already a new issue to tantalize me.) There seems to have been quite a crowd of people who tumbled simultaneously to Elif Batuman’s The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them in the past month. Where was I when this mass tumbling-to happened? How many Russian novels is this book going to make me want to read (or re-read)?

Remember in Amadeus when the Emperor responds to Mozart’s opera with the devastating zinger, “Too many notes?” And Mozart is appalled: how could anyone think such a thing? There were as many notes as there needed to be, “No more, no less.”  Too many notes. Ridiculous notion. The Emperor begs to differ. “There are only so many notes the ear can hear in the course of an evening.”

I understand Wulfie’s incredulity. One might as well say, “There are only so many books one can read in a lifetime.”

What? Bite your tongue!


Books I read in May:

Kids’ graphic novels

Chiggers by Hope Larson.

Smile by Raina Telgemeier. Wry memoir of the author’s junior-high orthodontic nightmare (she fell and knocked out her front teeth). My tween girls, who have braces in their near future, found the dentistry details fascinating. (No doubt they found the middle-school drama fascinating too. Raina has mean-girl friends and various boy woes.)

Lunch Lady and the Author Vendetta by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. The Lunch Lady, if you didn’t know, is a spy; her spy gadgets are all cleverly disguised as food and kitchen utensils. She defeats bad guys with whisks. In this one, Lunch Lady and the Author Vendetta, a trio of intrepid students makes clever use of gym socks to fend off a team of hypnotized gym teachers. Very silly; lots of fun.

Middle-grade fiction

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster. An old favorite in these parts. I was just in the mood.

Sarah and Katie by Dori White (mentioned here, not in depth). This one, I’ll have to save for its own post. It was a childhood favorite, long forgotten, that came back to me in great big wallops, smacking me back into my own past. It’s as moving as I remembered it.

Favorite Medieval Tales by Mary Pope Osborne. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight is my favorite of the tales included here. Gorgeous artwork.

Blubber by Judy Blume. Another blast from the past.

YA fiction

Betsy in Spite of Herself by Maud Hart Lovelace. Yes, again.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (post).

The Perilous Gard by Elizabeth Marie Pope (every bit as wonderful as The Sherwood Ring). This, too, deserves its own post! Nutshell version: Tudor period, exiled girl, old castle, greenwood, green cloak, mysterious lady, brooding younger son, lost child, house of secrets, enchanted people, secret caves, Tam Lin. What. Is. Not. To. Love.


Prairie Tale: A Memoir by Melissa Gilbert.

Confessions of a Prairie Bitch: How I Survived Nellie Oleson & Learned to Love Being Hated by Alison Arngrim. Alison had, it turns out, quite a difficult childhood (understatement), but playing one of America’s most loathed TV villains gave her a curious kind of strength. She writes with great humor and warmth, dishing up affection and snark in equal parts. The Little House fangirl that I am really enjoyed the behind-the-scenes peek at the TV show that played such a huge part in my childhood. Colorful language (ahem), colorful anecdotes, and some quite touching sketches of cast and crew members, such as the makeup artist who had worked with Marilyn Monroe and still carried an engraved money clip she gave him in appreciation of his talents.

Not yet finished

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams (a reread).

Crow Planet by Lyanda Lynn Haupt. (Almost finished; delightful.)

And about half a dozen first chapters, thanks to the Kindle-for-iPod app’s “sample this book” feature. The Possessed (see above); the opening of Melissa Sue Anderson’s memoir (figured I ought to read Mary’s too, now that I’ve read Laura’s and Nellie’s); Scott Westerfield’s Leviathan; Susan Cooper’s The Dark Is Rising; I can’t remember what else.