I am currently reading the book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr. It is subtitled “what the Internet is doing to our brains.” As I read along about how the digital age has shortened my attention span and has changed how I read a page, I wanted to get online and type out an entry in my blog. I do not contest that the Internet and computers have changed how we think, but I cannot assume it’s the defining reason why we think differently. Although I do feel my attention span shrinking, I never had a good one. My mind always worked best when it was multi-tasking. Maybe it would be clearer if I focused on one task at a time, but I never had that chance. In school, we had eight or nine periods with multiple papers, books, and projects to do at a single time. I had to connect social science with literature to seen how disciplines were interrelated. None of this is extrinsically bad, but it did lead to me having to juggle, even before the Internet became a dominant force in my life.
And this continues in the working world as well. I cannot focus on one single task. I would get fired. I have to read new introduced legislation, while writing up a story on a recent tax law case, and then concluding with some sort of project work that is outside the typical scope of my day. Unfortunately, the world is more intertwined and unable to handle the simplicity of solitary research.
However, I see his point that we are jumping around without that solitary/contemplative portion of life. That isn’t true for me, but I know people who cannot just sit and think through problems or thoughts. I love my alone time where I can read and think and postulate about using certain terms, certain concepts, and certain philosophies. I go for runs listening to podcasts to streamline my thoughts. I lay on the futon in my room listening to classical music on my turntable while flipping through the new issue of Newsweek. Although I am multitasking, these moments clear my head and allow me to focus on contemplation. Although digital signals are involved, it isn’t just searching the Internet.
Maybe the takeaway from this book is to think about how I conduct my day-to-day operations and try to set aside some time for non-Internet reading and get carried away with literature again.