Monday, September 20, 2010

It's the Internet's Fault

I know there's such a thing as pregnancy brain, but I think this is something different.  I have been reading (actually, listening to - I love me my audible subscription) The Shallows by Nicholas Carr.  I'm not all the way through with it yet, but frankly, what I've listened to so far is frightening enough.  Now I'm  not a luddite.  I embrace the internet more than your average person.  Heck, I had my first internet relationship in 1994 (he would send me .gif's of roses, which took three hours to download).  I met my husband on Craigslist (yep, seriously).  I learned html in 1998 and started a website which was the number one result on Yahoo for several years (at least, when you searched for Colonial America, that is).  I started blogging in 2002.  I'm not afraid of the internet.  Let me make that abundantly clear.  I'm not afraid of the internet.

Here's what I am afraid of.  I'm afraid of ADD.  I'm afraid that nobody's concentrating on anything anymore.  I'm afraid of this because I share a freeway with these people. 

For example, in The Shallows Carr gives evidence of university students at major Ivy League colleges not having to read entire books any longer.  What's worse is that they're English majors!  Apparently nobody under 25 is reading books any longer.  People are skimming, living life around the edges, never wading in beyond their knees.  Going in, googling, glancing at results, grabbing quotes, and leaving; moving on to the next assignment. 

To me, this means something more than just the idea that there are worlds of literary characters that these kids will never become friends with (Anne of Green Gables was my best friend throughout junior high).  It means that we're losing the ability to think deeply, to get our brains into that place of deep thought and concentration and creativity, being able to examine problems and issues from all angles and really dig into something deep.  This is rewarding on its own because you have a clearer picture of the issue, but it's also necessary for optimal physical health.  Look at all the people doing yoga and meditation.  Deep thought stimulates your brain in ways that floating around on the surface doesn't.

So now there's a movement called Slow Reading (this article from the Guardian introduces it).  Like the slow food movement before us (pretty self-explanatory - you need to take the time to really enjoy and digest what you're eating, as opposed to chowing down in your car while sitting on the freeway), the Slow Readers want us to connect to the words again, to really drink things in, to take the time to fully understand the message of the author, our interpretation of it, and any opinions about it that we might have.

Tracy Seeley, a slow-reading blogger, is quoted in the Guardian article, saying that slow reading should not, "just be the province of the intellectuals. Careful and slow reading, and deep attention, is a challenge for all of us." 

There are so many pulls for our attention at any given moment.  I find it ironic that things like yoga and meditation and chanting, etc., are all becoming so popular - like the Eat Pray Love phenomenon - we're all desperate to figure out a way to take time out and slow down, and yet we keep clicking, keep twittering, keep 4squaring, keep doing every new thing that comes around.  Me, I'm not into the 4square thing (I was, and then I got pranked at 7-11, so now I'm over it).  I rarely tweet.  In fact, I'm going to sit at my meditation altar in a second, and have 10 minutes of silence.

But maybe I should read this Wired article first - The Web is Dead.  Long live the Internet.  Perhaps the pendulum is moving back to the middle?

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