That may be a bit too strong, but it IS changing the way I read. And that comes as a big surprise to me, because even though I'm well aware of the differences between the way people read online and the way they read print materials, I don't do a lot of reading online. I'm one of those people who shudders when it's suggested that e-books or something similar will one day replace books you can hold in your hand and flip through, and if I have to read anything that's more than a page or so long online, I'll print it out.
So I was very surprised this evening when I found myself looking for text links in a book.
I'm reading the first of Regina Doman's books, on the recommendation of someone who posted a comment on my Catholic Blog in response to my post about C.S. Lewis's Till We Have Faces. I'm only on page 31; I can't give any kind of conclusive view of the book yet. But in the first chapter, there are several snippets of poetry and literary allusions, and let me tell you...I wanted hyperlinks.
I've always thought that the proliferation of links in text shortened people's attention spans and encouraged skimming or reading a paragraph or two and then jumping to something else. In fact, I've seen quite a lot of data that supports that idea. But my own inclination (another surprise) ran in a different direction. I wanted more context. I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to stop after a character quoted a line or two from a favorite poem and read the rest of it. A G.K. Chesterton novel I'd never heard of was mentioned; I wanted to have a look at it.
Of course, I'm free to look those things up before I move on (the Internet is still here, after all, even if I'm reading a regular book), but it was an interesting realization, that reading online provides the context to read more deeply if that's what we choose to do, to put things in context and understand the allusions that give a work another layer of texture.
Perhaps that shouldn't have been a revelation--that is, after all, one of the key purported benefits of links in online text. But it's so contrary to the net effect that I see as people become accustomed to reading online that it came as quite a surprise to me--all the more shocking because I'd apparently adopted the habit of clicking on links for context and then returning to the main text without any conscious awareness.
So maybe the Internet isn't ruining my brain, but it seems that it is changing the way I gather and assimilate information.