Nicholas Carr has an insightful post that points to a fascinating study of online user behavior while they are looking for information and researching some subject, done by British Library (the research study, 35 pages PDF, well organized and well worth your time).
…In one sense, the process of information retrieval seems to have become more important than the information retrieved. We store lots of information, but like distracted squirrels we rarely go back to examine it in depth. We want more acorns.
The authors note that this kind of behavior is not restricted to the young. It characterizes web users of all ages. It does not, therefore, appear to be a pattern that people will outgrow as they get older. Rather, it seems to represent the new way of of processing information that our new universal medium has imposed upon us – and not against our will. The researchers write that the log studies reveal “that, from undergraduates to professors, people exhibit a strong tendency towards shallow, horizontal, `flicking’ behaviour in digital libraries. Power browsing and viewing appear to be the norm for all. The popularity of abstracts among older researchers rather gives the game away. Society is dumbing down.”