A recent study directed by David Nicholas at the University College of London showed that young people are losing their ability to concentrate because of the internet – as if, on hitting adolescence they don’t already have enough to deal with?

 

The study showed that adolescents are losing the ability to read and write long text because the internet is changing the way they think compared to older volunteers. Over a three year period researchers asked hundreds of 12 to 18 year olds to answer a series of questions by surfing the internet.

 

The results were interesting if not predictable.  The majority of adolescents viewed half the number of web pages as the older volunteers.  According to Professor Nicholas, 40% of those who participated in the study did not consult more than three web pages from the thousands available and rarely viewed a site more than twice.  

However, people who were educated before the age of the internet tended to relate back to previously viewed pages more often and go deeper into the details instead of jumping from one page to another.

 

It seems that there is evidence that the internet is changing the way the youth think because it encourages users to view multiple sources of information instead of from one traditional source such as a book.  Based on the study, this new “associative” thinking has left the young with the inability to read and write at length because their minds are being rewired by the web. This sits alongside the long suggested divide between ‘digital natives’ and ‘digital immigrants’.

I recently went back to school and got my MBA.  While researching for various projects I couldn’t help but think how lucky I was to now have the internet.  Whoever remembers the dewy decimal system and reading book after book to source materials for that 20 page term paper understands my excitement.  I can imagine that the internet is increasing the potential for our youth to have lower attention spans, but novels such as the Harry Potter or Twilight series have had phenomenal success.  They are long texts and teenagers have no problem flying through them. How does this sit in relation to the above study which suggests attention spans are reducing?  

What do you think?  Is the internet changing the way we think?

Marisa Mittelstaedt

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