Yesterday night I discovered the answer on why I’m so driven to find questions and their answers on the internet; questions, that arise while looking for answers. And where did I find it? On the internet, of course.
We are all addicted to information and there is a reason. Taking in and processing information was essential for survival such as scanning the landscape watching for predators or other dangers. And nature has made this an incentive by giving us a warm ‘fuzzy’ feeling through the release of the neurotransmitter dopamine. It’s the same way nature rewards sexual behavior to ensure the survival of the species.
Scanning the horizon yesterday has been replaced with browsing the internet today and that bar that B.F. Skinner‘s rats hit over and over again for the reward of food has been replaced by the “Enter” key that we press all day for our dopamine fix.
However, what do we do with all that information that we strive so hard to seek? Isn’t it all too much? And what else suffers as a result of this?
Nicholas Carr, who has written extensively about the effects of the internet on cognition, talks about the consequences of information overload in this 15-minute lecture. Hopping from article to article is a lot like multitasking, something we’re all familiar with. But multitasking doesn’t actually exist, it is rather the process of shifting from task to task, adjusting constantly to the new stimulus in front of you. It’s not an efficient process, because it interrupts a more sophisticated exploration and leads to a lack of important processing skills required for creative and systemic thinking.
And guess what else it affects and this was a surprise to me…..Empathy!
Research suggests that along with the decline of book reading, college “kids today are about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts of 20 or 30 years ago” according to Kevin Dutton’s article “Psychopathy’s Double Edge” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Isn’t that scary?
Here is why the 500+-year old art of reading a book is today more important than ever:
Reading a book carves brand-new neural pathways into the ancient cortical bedrock of our brains. It transforms the way we see the world—makes us, as Nicholas Carr puts it in his recent essay, “The Dreams of Readers,” “more alert to the inner lives of others.” We become vampires without being bitten—in other words, more empathic. Books make us see in a way that casual immersion in the Internet, and the quicksilver virtual world it offers, doesn’t.
- Kevin Dutton
Usually when reading a book we become immersed in the story as the protagonist and imagine life from the viewpoint of the hero/ine. How about reversing this? What about imagining your own life and the people around you through the eyes of a Jane Austen, or William Shakespeare. Isn’t that an interesting thought?
Trying to see the world through someone else’s eyes is not only an entertaining experiment but also applied empathy. Often I try to see life through the eyes of someone I don’t like that much. That usually helps me understand the motives of the other person’s actions and helps me to stay calm.
Empathy is important. And not only for the ones at the receiving end.
Credit for finding Kevin Dutton’s fascinating article and the video above go to Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast.