Last Week Nicholas Carr wrote an article for The Atlantic entitled "Is Google Making Us Stupid?". In it he says...
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. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.
He of course lays the blame for this change on the Web.
I don't disagree with the idea that this is happening to people. In fact, I'd argue that people 30 and below have probably never thought in any way but this. But I don't necessarily think its a bad thing nor do I think its entirely due to the web.
More than anything I think this is a symptom of a more active society. Anyone who has studied history will tell you the modern age has seen a dramatic increase in activities that are available to even the lowest income levels. Not only is there the Internet but you have TV (with hundreds of channels), Movies, Video Games, Music, Books, Radio, Sporting Events, Amusement Parks, Carnivals, State Fairs, and a whole host of other things that cost..in the scheme of things...next to nothing.
Heck, our Cars are more fun than those of any past generation.
This is relevant because in every past generation reading was not only a way to get information but also the primary source of entertainment. So Books and Magazines needed to be long because they were all you had to do during the day. Now that people have more activities than they have time to do them they've begun to look at reading not as entertainment but solely as an information delivery system. Because of that changed role people gravitate towards writing that is more efficient (a.k.a. shorter and more direct).
But that certainly doesn't mean people are becoming ignorant because of the trend.
Read any 14 page magazine article and you'll find the information you get out of it can be summarized in about a page. The rest is stylistic filler that doesn't deliver any relevant information of its own. Look at Mr. Carr's own article and you'll get a good example of what I mean by that. He repeats the same point over and over, uses anecdotes to again reiterate the point, over explains things that everyone already knows, and so on.
His point is a simple one that can be stated, in its entirety, using about two paragraphs. The other 10.5 pages are nothing more than fluff used to reinforce the point, not components of the point itself. Meaning someone who read a more succinct version would still get all the information provided in the longer one they just wouldn't get all the fluff.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not faulting Mr Carr or any other print writer for the above cited "fluff". Some people still read for entertainment and those people will surely get that from Mr. Carr's 11 pages of article. But that doesn't mean the rest of us are any worse off or any less informed for not wanting to sit through pages of superfluousness.
It just means we prefer a more efficient approach.