Wednesday, June 2, 2010


I found this article in the Atlantic Monthly in 2008 - and didn't read it. I was too busy. I downloaded it onto my desktop, in fact, to make sure I didn't lose it ("favorites" are so ephemeral) and still, didn't read it.

I might have skimmed it once.

Nicholas Carr, the author, summed it up (ironically*) in his title : Is Google Making us Stupid? Feeling highly qualified to answer this, I didn't bother. It might have taken me away from something more important. Email. Facebook? Dinner with my kids. Dinner alone. Dinner with House. I could knit with that time. Or read a book.

It's no secret that we have gotten flabby. (What a great word.) Physically we are largely obese, the majority of us. We are targeted as crass infidels perhaps not because we are unholy but just unaware.

Likewise our brains are flabby - or flabbier. I mentioned the other day (to a friend) all the languages our founding fathers learned as a matter of course: Greek, Latin, French, English, often Hebrew. It was standard fare for the educated class.

Now we are lucky to get one language in the course of achieving a higher education.

And yet we are supposed to do something with SO much more information.

There's no doubt that "more", the holy grail of our society (sadly infecting the rest of the world) in some ways gives us much less. The loss the ability to concentrate has taken me 15 years to accomplish. It's a gradual fading.... and who knows, having kids or getting just a wee bit more full in the brain may have everything to do with my sense of being more distractible.

Years ago I said multitasking was a lie. This was a solid observation based on training software and watching users struggle to find icons on the screen. I could always find it faster, standing behind them. THEN I noticed THEY (or whomever) could always find icons faster than ME if I was on an unfamiliar computer. **

Since then they have proven that multitasking is really just very fast switching. No duh.

Today I found this article, where Carr explores the subject more deeply: 'The Shallows': This Is Your Brain Online : NPR
The distractions in our lives have been proliferating for a long time, but never has there been a medium that, like the Net, has been programmed to so widely scatter our attention and to do it so insistently.
It was fun to read and watch myself get distracted, send an email and come back to finish the article. I DID notice how long it was.

And yet I read - a lot. Actual books.

Novels of all kinds, spiritual stuff, history, poetry (not as much as I'd like) and heavy lifting philosophy and relationship tomes. ugh

I love it. And sometimes I hate it.

But my least concern is for those of us who read, or those of us who can read well when needed.

The thing that causes grave concern is our children, and grandchildren - and how they will fare if (as Carr claims) lack of ability to concentrate means less creativity.

What if no one evers exists of the same creative and thoughtful caliber as Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, Omar Khayyam, Tolstoy, Jane Austen, Virginia Wolfe?

Then what?

*ironic because he had to make the title short and explanatory so readers could comprehend quickly. In our distracted, sound-bite-driven way.

**the mulitasking part of this exercise is : look for an icon, while moving the mouse with your hand. Yeah, don't work well.

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