Friday, October 21, 2011

Distractions (The Internet is Making us Dumber)

Last time, I talked about the rise of the instant-gratification age.  With it came the need for people to be constantly engaged in something.  Everything needs to be now.  In the same line of thought, it is possible that the internet is making us dumber.

Humans have the basic instinct to get distracted.  That is our default state.  While this is very useful in situations where we need to look out for constant danger, it impedes our ability to concentrate on a task.

Nicholas Carr is of the opinion that the usage of the internet is training our brains to think more widely and less deeply.  Reading a webpage filled with hyperlinks, or a stream of short Twitter messages distracts our minds.  Increasing the speed at which we find information seems to be becoming more important than understanding it.  We are sort of skimming all the time, instead of just using skimming to find information worth reading.

Most people would recommend blog posts to be around 250 to 400 words long.  Any longer than that, and you will lose readers.  This is not untrue.  I’ve often skipped posts (or at least postponed it) because it would take too long to read the entire thing.  Short bursts of information are easier to digest and take up a lot less time.  Since we are so inclined to do everything quickly, we give up on long, time-consuming tasks and rather turn to things like Facebook and Twitter that gives us a slew of short information bursts.  There are a lot of blogs that go over that word limit, but they seem to be dwindling from what I’ve seen.

The internet (and other distracting media) does have its benefits (besides the obvious).  It increases the speed at which we process things and keep track of them.  Nicholas Carr says that it can increase our ability to monitor a lot of signals at once, like a pilot or surgeon does.

Directly opposed to the internet that spreads our attention to multiple points, our own trade as writers, books, focuses attention into one spot.  But even they have been affected by the speed change that society has undergone.  Readers demand more immediacy and less content that does not contribute directly to the story.

Do short blog posts and the internet as a whole make us dumber?  Not really.  But we are in the process of sacrificing depth in order to get speed and width.  Carr mentions a Roman philosopher who said, “To be everywhere is to be nowhere.”  It might be the very cliff over which we are currently standing.

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