28/07/2015 12:23 BST | Updated 27/07/2016 06:59 BST

Is Junk Content Killing Us?


This article is 584 words long. Not because I think that's the right length for the article, but because I've been told that people won't read more than that.

Is that true? Probably. Better qualified people than me say so. But if it is, I think we may have ourselves to blame.

Like junk food addicts we've become addicted to an easy, unchallenging format of 'SEO Friendly' articles. Pre-digested content of no real substance - the equivalent to the high sugar high fat, low nutrition content of a Big Mac.

Or what I call the 'McArticle'.

We all know the game - The Top 10 Mistakes that Marketers Make, 3 Important Innovations...etc etc. How many of those articles have you read that actually tell you something? I'll wager that most of us only read the headlines and skim through the content. We click back to our email with a vague sense of sedation and sickliness - rather like grazing on a Bargain Bucket.

When I was a teenager I used to ready, voraciously. I read many of the classics of literature between the age of 15 and 25 - Tolstoy, Dickens, Hardy. I wanted to be educated and well read and I could read for hours non-stop. I had more time then it's true, but I also had more concentration.

After 17 years working in digital media I struggle to read books. After just a few pages I can feel the thought impulses firing in my mind. It's as if my brain, hooked on the diet of constant distraction the internet provides, becomes as restless as a smoker without his packet of fags.

There's a lot of talk at the moment of Fast Food and it's effect on the nation's health. Diabetes, heart disease, obesity - we've hear it all the time. What's also become apparent is how addictive fast food is.

What I think it often overlooked in that debate is how eating lots of junk food can turn you off the healthy stuff. The more your body craves the sugar and fat of the quick fix, the less you fancy the sourer tasting vegetables.

Is the same thing happening to our minds? Are we becoming so addicted to low quality, easily accessible content that we have forgotten how to think?

Interestingly Nicolas Sharr released a book dealing with the very same issue a few years ago.

"The constant distractedness that the net encourages--the state of being, to borrow a phrase from T S Eliot, "distracted from distraction by distraction" -- is very different from the kind of temporary, purposeful diversion of our mind that refreshes our thinking. The cacophony of stimuli short-circuits both conscious and unconscious thought, preventing our minds from thinking either deeply or creatively. Our brains turn into simple signal-processing units, shepherding information into consciousness and then back out again."

And it seems that there's some science behind it as well. According to Sharr, scientists have discovered that the structure of the brain actually changes depending on the tools we use to process information. The technology we use actually changes the neural pathways of the mind. This means the way we think is altered, even when we switch the technology off!

Of course, there's nothing wrong with the odd Big Mac, but the problem is that on the internet that's pretty much all that's on the menu. If we're not careful, in 10 years time we'll have forgotten how to cook traditional food. And then where will we be?

Anyway...I'm off for a burger.

This blog post originally appeared on Linked In