Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Dumb and dumber
My friend Elizabeth sent me this article by Nicholas Carr. He blames the internet for changing the way we process information to the extent that it is getting harder for us to concentrate for long periods of time when we read. This is not really new information, I guess, but the way he described his transformation was very similar to what has happened to me.
I used to read at least forty books a year. Sometimes in a weekend I would read two or three books. Now I find myself struggling to read a book every few weeks. I'll pick it up, read a page and think, "What did I just read?" I have never been a magazine reader, yet I'm buying more and more of them, leaving them open with articles half read. And my daily routine consists of reading email, blogs, and short articles from the internet.
Here is what Carr says:
"My mind isn't going--so far as I can tell--but it's changing. I'm not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I'm reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I'd spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That's rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I'm always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle."
He goes on to quote Bruce Friedman, a blogger who writes on the subject of the use of computers in medicine:
"I can't read War and Peace anymore. I've lost the ability to do that. Even a blog with more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it."
Carr says towards the end of the article:
"If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with 'content,' we will sacrifice something important not only to ourselves but in our culture."
I even found myself skimming his article (it was five pages long) and made myself go back to read it all, realizing the import of what he was saying. And when I blog, I'm torn between covering everything I want to say and saying it quickly and concisely so that I hold my readers' attention.
Take some time to read the article. Take some time to read a book, for that matter. It sounds like we may need the practice.