The World Wide Web of Overthinking

After finishing Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows”, I must confess that it opened my eyes to some of the disadvantages and downsides of our frequent use of the internet. I also think Carr makes some compelling arguments for how our brains quite literally change in response to this usage. Overall, I enjoyed the book and thought it revealed a lot about how the modern brain works. However, I felt that the arguments, though fascinating, could be redundant and I almost felt as though the book could have been half its actual length.

Nevertheless, as I pored through the second half of the book, I couldn’t help think about a point that Carr quickly touches on. He claims that the minds of those who use the web are far more prone to a chaotic series of thoughts, as opposed to the calm, rational sense of thought that one acquires from reading books. “It is the very fact that book reading ‘understimulates the senses’ that makes the activity so intellectually rewarding… The mind of the experienced book reader is a calm mind, not a buzzing one” (Carr 123). From Carr’s perspective, then, the process of reading books forges a reasonable, non-catastrophic form of thought that one cannot get from using the internet. This is because unlike the internet, there isn’t so much happening at any one time when one reads a book, as to scatter our thoughts. What I then interpret this quote to mean is that the web is generating a population of “over-thinkers”.

A free stock image I’ve scaled down of a cursor and help icon over a keyboard from (By user Geralt). This image sums up what the internet may be doing to us: coercing us to overthink and question our decisions.

I consider myself to be someone who has a chronic problem of overthinking virtually every action that I perform (including writing this post). Even the most mundane, trite, everyday decisions that I am forced to make come at the cost of me scrolling through every conceivable consequence in my head. What’s more, the vast amount of catastrophic and disproportionate thinking that I do can be exhausting and physically taxing. This all being said, Carr’s quote regarding the use of the internet and a chaotic thought process made me think (or, perhaps overthink) about my own thought process. Perhaps my propensity toward falling into a pit of destructive thinking can be attributed, at least in part, to my repeated, almost impulsive use of the internet for everything from schoolwork to entertainment.  After all, general anxiety, attention deficit disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder have all been on the rise in the United States in recent decades. Understandably, these factors cannot be entirely accredited to the internet, as there are so many environmental and genetic factors that play into the the chemical makeup of the brain. And yet, given that Carr has said that the internet can change the way we think, perhaps it may be a contributing factor to an increased number of worried minds. Thus, my question to you, and the question that he got me to think about, is: do you think the internet had led to an increase in overthinking and anxiety?