I recently read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr, the book examines the difference between how we process information from printed material versus the internet. Carr examines countless studies that show a superior comprehension and retention of information from printed materials. The author concludes that, though the internet offers us an Amazon River of data, we skim the river’s surface and don’t assimilate the material as deeply as we do with more “primitive” media forms such as books and magazines.
All incoming stimuli, whether it is information or food, has to be broken down and digested. Once we had a simple, repetitive diet that our digestive system understood how to disassemble well. If you were Italian you ate Italian food, Chinese ate Chinese, you get the point. Now we eat food with influences from a dozen cultures and/or food chemists, in just one day. The result is often a similar lack of proper assimilation, a plethora of digestive complaints. Though the remedies vary from person to person it is striking to me that every time I give a patient any type of dietary restriction they feel better. “Every since I stopped eating _____ fill in the blank: diary/wheat/gluten/sugar/meat/grain etc… I have felt so much better, I am not ______ (constipated, bloated, gassy etc…).” Almost any simplification improves our digestion.
Our digestive system is like a chop shop, a black market garage where stolen cars are disassembled and turned into a few dozen carefully organized piles of parts. A few generations ago our chop shops handled only Chevrolets, Ford, and General Motors. The disassembly went smoothly because the vehicles all had similar layouts and everything was measured in inches and feet, no need for metric tools here.
Today our digestive system faces more challenges: foods from all over the world, new chemical compounds, and innovative cooking and processing methods that re-arrange the food molecules in novel ways. Our gastrointestinal mechanics are constantly scrambling around for the right wrench, socket or screwdriver. The inefficiencies contribute to the development of, not only digestion problems, but also to food allergies and a weakened immune system.
A key component to both food and media digestion is attention, or lack thereof. The way we use the net can be a caloric overload for the brain. The brain, like the digestive tract, is overwhelmed by the spectrum of stimuli out there. The internet seems designed to divide our attention, each separate window demands a little chunk, and distraction is only a click away. Similarly the modern diet with its infinite variety and fusions of scents, flavors, colors, and textures splinters our attention. In addition to simplifying the diet another effective way to improve digestion is to narrow one’s focus during meals: eat slowly, chew carefully, turn off the TV, don’t answer the phone, and whatever you do, don’t surf the net!