Saturday, June 12, 2010

Staying focussed

There are time I'm afraid the internet is destroying my brain. Cathy has expressed this concern before and I've kind of acknowledged it, but never really took it too seriously. However, I think the reason is that we have our difference in what we perceive as the threat from the internet. Cathy thinks I'm addicted to it...that it's difficult for me to go more than a few hours without being on the computer and doing something and that I ought to spend more time offline.

There is validity to that argument and I am trying to make a more conscious effort these days to make sure I don't get home, eat supper and then spend three hours online, which I have done in the past. It's a slow process and I'm going to slip up, but I think we'll get there.

My concern is that the damage is already done. That the internet has already irretrievably damaged my brain.

I've read two articles in the past week that gives me pause and concern. One, despite it being in Wired magazine, I can't link to because it's not online. But it is an excerpt from a book - In the Shallows by Nicholas Carr. The other story came from the New York Times called "Hooked on gadgets, and paying a mental price."

Essentially the gist of these articles is that the overwhelming flow of instantaneous information is rewiring the way we behave and the way our brains think. And that in theory we should be getting smarter because, hey, look at all this information we now have access to. Almost anything in the world I want to learn about, I can now find out about in very short order.

The problem is, people have shorter attention spans. That the need for instant information is what's driving people right now. If you believe the authors of these articles, may well be rewiring our brains. That it's shattering our ability to concentrate on specific tasks and that we become easily distracted.

When we go online, we enter and environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking, and superficial learning. Even as the internet grants us easy access to vast amounts of information, it is turning us into shallower thinkers, literally changing the structure of our brains. - Nicholas Carr

This kind of arguments frightens me just a little bit because it really does match the way I behave sometimes. I was asked a couple of years ago if I could change one thing about me, what would it be. And I think I said that I wished I could concentrate better. Because I do feel like I get easily distracted and I do have issues concentrating on a single task. It's something that I have to remind myself about constantly. That guy in the Times story, who is on a tight deadline but just can't pass up on a story coming across on his Twitter feed...I've done that. I'm not as bad as he is, but boy, he's a little closer to my reality than I'm comfortable with.

I always thought that maybe it was just me, if that's just the way I was. But now I wonder....I use the internet a lot. I always have. I remember back in '95 when I was at King's College, I received a Golden Cobden (Megan might remember them) and one of them was for person online the most.

So was I always this way, or has 15 years or more of hardcore internet usage rewired my brain in ways I can't even imagine? For that matter, is it too late to change at this point?

I don't know. I still like using the internet quite a bit and I do believe it's been a mostly positive thing in my life, if for no other reason than the friendships I've not only made, but been able to maintain. But perhaps I haven't spent enough time considering the drawbacks and possibly the harm it's done.

I also wonder if there are ways to make my concentration better. I certainly could use more focus. I know there are drugs you can buy. I wouldn't buy them, but I'd be lying if I said I hadn't thought about it.

Something for me to think about...assuming I can focus enough on it, of course.

Last Five
1. Don't wake daddy (live) - The Tragically Hip
2. Don't do me like that - Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers*
3. McFearless - Kings of Leon
4. Alone and forsaken (live) - Neko Case
5. Montebello Park - The Trews


Megan said...

The Golden Cobdens! Man, I wish I still had those. Somewhere along the line I decided they weren't worth moving to the new town. Silly me. What short-sightedness.

'95...that's the year I got there. We JUST missed each other.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was just looking at these videos of Chinese cats...what were yous aying again?