I’m reading The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, by Nicholas Carr. I don’t normally read ‘Why This Thing is Ruining the World FOR EVER’ books because I think they start from the flawed position of assuming that everything was perfect before This Thing. It feels like the intersection of Nostalgia St and Fear of Change Rd.
But I heard Carr on the radio talking about his book and had an aha! moment.
From The Shallows:
“Over the last few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. 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 feel it most strongly when I’m reading. I used to find it easy to immerse myself in a book or a lengthy article. My mind would get caught up in the twists of 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 starts to drift after a page or two. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel like I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle,” (Carr 2010, pp. 5-6).
I know what he means. I spent a good chunk of my childhood with my head in book after book after book (when I wasn’t jumping off the roof onto the trampoline, or sneaking out at night to wander around town because it was interesting). Now it takes me months to get through anything. I can’t remember the last time I got through a chapter without getting up to make a cup of tea, or put on a load of washing, or check my email, or see if twitter is being interesting. I took four journal articles to the cafe this morning and had to force myself to finish one before I could come home and get on the internet. This is not good for someone who is doing a doctorate.
And I write this with 11 tabs open. That’s 11 articles/opinion pieces/blogs I want to read, yet instead of reading them as I find them, I leave them there to read “later”. And then twitter shows me something new and interesting to read, so I open that in a new tab. By the end of the day, I won’t have read any of them, so I’ll put the links in an email to myself, (subject line: To read) and the email will sit with all the others with the subject line: To read.
So, my first challenge is to finish The Shallows without being distracted. Then, Brain, there’s gonna be some changes around here.