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Are Lawyers Getting Scatterbrained Because of Web Usage?

If you’ve noticed an increased inability to concentrate, you’re not alone. And for lawyers, where time is literally money, procrastination and lack of focus can hamper productivity and damage revenues.

A growing chorus of scientific evidence confirms what you may already suspect: that massive consumption of the web, email, Twitter, Facebook, Blogs, or other online activity is changing the way you think, and the ability to concentrate is a casualty of your connected habits. And the multi-tasking you pride yourself on? Guess again.

Nowhere is this discussion of connected mental chaos more thoughtfully laid out than in Nick Carr’s new book, ‘The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.’ Here’s an excerpt from my review on Law.com:

Human brains are sophisticated devices, as it turns out, and a process called “neuroplasticity” allows our brains to change based on how we use them. The constant disruptions our digital lives place on us physically alter the makeup of our brains. On a biological level, we crave connectedness and prize newness, so we’re constantly checking e-mail, sending e-mail, or engaging in another typical form of 21st century communication. When we constantly interrupt our work or trains of thought to perform another action, we actually train our brain to jump around to the detriment of our faculties to maintain deep thought. As a result, “frequent interruptions scatter our thoughts, weaken our memory, and make us tense and anxious”.

“The Shallows” then explains that since we change the actual structure of our neural pathways by our computer usage, our thought process is the same whether we’re online or not. So even when we’re not checking e-mail thirty to forty times an hour, and instead eating dinner with the family or driving to work, we’re easily distracted, because essentially, we’ve worn grooves into our brains which tell us to constantly scan for new information.

But it’s not all bad news. Our new neural pathways hewn from the river of the Internet allow us to discover information much more quickly. When it comes to sorting and filtering skills, finding relevant information in a heap of data, we humans are advancing on that front.

So for Lawyers managing their practice, research, and time and billing, the web is an undeniable benefit. But, if you’re feeling something chipping away at your attention span, make sure you carve out plenty of time for deep thinking and undistracted activity.