Do you get bored after reading just a couple of paragraphs from a text?
Do you step into your room just to forget why you are there?
And do you constantly have this craving to jump off from a mentally-demanding task to open up your Facebook or Instagram?
If your answer to one the above is yes, you are probably suffering from a shattered focus.
Point. Click. Scroll. Scan. Point. Click. Scroll. Scan. Repeat until you walk away or shut off the computer, smart phone, or tablet.
The persuasive and comprehensive case for this current state of affairs is made by Nicholas Carr in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains.
According to Nicholas the modern mind is like the fictional computer.
“I can feel it too,” he writes. “Over the last few years, I have had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory.
“When I began writing The Shallows, toward the end of 2007, I struggled in vain to keep my mind fixed on the task. The Net provided, as always, a bounty of useful information and research tools, but its constant interruptions scattered my thoughts and words. I tended to write in disconnected sprits, the same way I wrote when blogging.”
Nicholas left his place of Boston to the mountains of Colorado, which lacked cell phone service and high-speed Internet access. He canceled his Twitter account, suspended his access to Facebook, “shut down” his automatic news reader, and cut out Skypeing and instant messaging.
This enabled him to rewire his brain and once again engage in the deep thought of traditional reading, writing, and communication.
Besides the glories of technology and what it has done for us as a human specie, the thesis of this book is that computers are destroying our powers of concentration.
Numerous surveys suggest that the Internet has diminished our interest in reading books.
Nicholas quotes Wallace Stevens’s poem “The House Was Quiet and the World Was Calm,” in which stillness allows the reader to “become a book.”
The incessant noise of the Internet, Nicholas concludes, has turned the difficult text into an obsolete relic.
Personally, I know that technology is here to stay, there is no going back. What we need to be careful of is that we don’t lose our strengths and what works better for us in the process of immersing ourselves in technologies. Technological advancement don’t reverse.
We need to use the technology to our advantage not let it use us to our disadvantage.
There is a wonderful quote from English author Douglas Adams that covers this terrain better than anything I can add:
“1. Anything that is in the world when you are born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
2. Anything that is invented between when you are fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
3. Anything invented after you are thirty-five is against the natural order of things.”
This book is definitely worth reading.
Nicholas does a sterling job to drive home how addictive the internet is. As he says, you don’t want to admit to yourself how much you crave internet stimulation, and how frequently you check mail, SMSes, inboxes, tweeter messages.
I have taken off Twitter, Facebook, off my phone for the past few days. I don’t have Instagram and LinkedIn.
The idea was to see what would happen, the results are that I’m more productive than usual. I got to read and finish more books, write more and my concentration levels have improved significantly.
- “When our brain is overtaxed, we find “distractions more distracting.”
- “Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts—the faster, the better.”
- “We want to be interrupted, because each interruption brings us a valuable piece of information. To turn off these alerts is to risk feeling out of touch, or even socially isolated.”
- “We program our computers and thereafter they program us.”
- “In the quiet spaces opened up by the prolonged, undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply.”
- “The brighter the software, the dimmer the user.”
- “When a printed book, whether a recently published scholarly history or a two-hundred-year-old Victorian novel, is transferred to an electronic device connected to the Internet, it turns into something very like a Web site. Its words become wrapped in all the distractions of the networked computer. Its links and other digital enhancements propel the reader hither and yon. It loses what the late John Updike called its “edges” and dissolves into the vast, rolling waters of the Net. The linearity of the printed book is shattered, along with the calm attentiveness it encourages in the reader.”
- “The key to memory consolidation is attentiveness.”
- “Sitting down and going through a book from cover to cover doesn’t make sense,” he says. “It’s not a good use of my time, as I can get all the information I need faster through the Web.” As soon as you learn to be “a skilled hunter” online, he argues, books become superfluous.”
- “We don’t constrain our mental powers when we store new long-term memories. We strengthen them. With each expansion of our memory comes an enlargement of our intelligence. The Web provides a convenient and compelling supplement to personal memory – but when we start using the Web as a substitute for personal memory, by bypassing the inner processes of consolidation, we risk emptying our minds of their riches.”
- “You can take a book to the beach without worrying about sand getting in its works. You can take it to bed without being nervous about it falling to the floor should you nod off. You can spill coffee on it. You can sit on it. You can put it down on a table, open to the page you’re reading, and when you pick it up a few days later it will still be exactly as you left it. You never have to be concerned about plugging a book into an outlet or having its battery die.”
- “Research continues to show that people who read linear text comprehend more, remember more, and learn more than those who read text peppered with links.”
- “Quite a few people still listen to vinyl records, use film cameras to take photographs, and look up phone numbers in the printed Yellow Pages. But the old technologies lose their economic and cultural force. They become progress’s dead ends. It’s the new technologies that govern production and consumption, that guide people’s behavior and shape their perceptions. That’s why the future of knowledge and culture no longer lies in books or newspapers or TV shows or radio programs or records or CDs. It lies in digital files shot through our universal medium at the speed of light.”