Understanding the Mind of the Virtual Scholar

Nicholas Carr over at his blog (also for M.A.):

“The medium is the mind,” I write toward the end of The Big Switch, arguing, as others have before, that the tools we use to gather, store, and analyze information inevitably exert a strong influence over the way we think. As the internet becomes our universal medium – what the director of the Annenberg Center for the Digital Future terms “a comprehensive tool that Americans are using to touch the world” – its technical characteristics also begin to shape, slowly but inexorably, the workings of our memory and our other cognitive processes.

Because the Net is relatively new, we don’t yet have solid research, in the form of long-term “longitudinal” studies of web users, on its effects on cognition. But the British Library, working with researchers at University College London, this week published the results of what it calls a “virtual longitudinal study” that combines a review of “published literature on the information behaviour and preferences of young people over the past thirty years” and an extensive analysis, conducted over five years, of the logs of a British Library website, as well as a second popular research site, that serves to document people’s behavior in finding and reading information online. According to the researchers, “This is the first time that anyone has actually profiled on any real scale the information seeking behaviour of the virtual scholar by age.” (The full study, in pdf format, is available here.)