General Question

wundayatta's avatar

Do you find that the internet is changing your ability the ability to concentrate deeply and be reflective?

Asked by wundayatta (58367 points ) March 18th, 2009

Nicholas Carr argues that the internet is rewiring our brains and making it harder for us to sit down and read novels, or do anything that requires long concentration or contemplation. I guess perhaps meditation might fit into this category of activities.

I have found that I can’t read novels any more. I haven’t read one in over a year. I used to read dozens a year. Also, I can’t sustain the concentration to write anything longer than what I write here.

I had chalked this up to getting a brain disorder that was diagnosed a year ago (manic-depression). Yet, maybe I am pointing my finger at the wrong cause. Maybe it’s the internet.

Concentrate. Reflect deeply. Tell me if you find that the internet is affecting your ability to do that? And if so, how?

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18 Answers

Dog's avatar

Interesting topic.

While I still read I have noticed that my mind seems to hate a stagnant moment.
Any time I am waiting for anything- intermission at the theatre, dr. office etc I am whipping out the IPhone and surfing. If I have 30 seconds I am on email or fluther.

SeventhSense's avatar

I think volumetrically I actually read more on the internet except it’s in billions of little pieces and acquiring facts is infinitely easier when the process is buttons rather than volumes of paper. I also find that I may peruse a study and just keep scrolling through it and may print it out at a later time. Sometimes I am shocked by the amount of pages that I’ve read. I think books are practical at times but if you can access works online it’s just more sensible.
Also I think that this idea of the collective is just brilliant. But I do wonder about the copyright of my ideas in the public domain. Maybe it’s all leading to the brave new world where we are not consumed with ownership of ideas and intellectual property. Who knows? Although I think I’d be peeved if I saw a Fluther Book somewhere that had my words in it.

cak's avatar

I still read, a lot. I think it has taken a toll on my willingness to sit down and write, though. I’m working on a project (written) with another person and I’m having to force myself to sit and write. I wasn’t like that before…so I know it’s my time on here that is curbing my desire to write. It’s a bit frustrating, but I’ve started limiting myself on the internet to times that I am looking things up, while working on a project or when I truly have free time. Like right now, I’m waiting for a response from someone and can see they are still typing – but when this conversation ends and she sends me the updates, I’ll be finished with the internet for several hours. I don’t have insomnia, anymore – so I’m not on really late. If I’m on – it’s only because I have a sick kid keeping me up or the husband is snoring so loud, it wakes me up.

btko's avatar

I definitely agree. I used to be able to spend some time off reading a book for a couple hours but I get bored now really easily. Also I find the internet takes away in more ways than that – For example I probably spend more time in Fluther than reading.

The internet is such a huge time waster. Don’t get me wrong though, is is a great tool for communication, information, and fun, but I think I don’t manage my time well and I get sucked in.

I need to somehow still have and use the internet, but limited. Otherwise I may need to cut myself off.

dynamicduo's avatar

The internet is recommending more things to read in real life. It has not affected my capacity to process information. Sometimes I do find myself regretting lost moments when I could be filling them with “I can has cheezburger” pictures, but then I realize that it ultimately doesn’t matter what I read mundanely during the day, and I have been striving to shove less mundane details into my brain as a result.

essieness's avatar

Not really… In fact, I would say Fluther is causing me to think a little more. If anything has taken away from my reading time, it’s my stinkin’ iPhone.

Jamspoon's avatar

Oh my god… I just clicked on that article by Carr, because I’d read it at the bookstore last year but I’d forgotten that it had been in July, it didn’t seem that long ago because the ideas are still quite fresh in my mind, though that could be because of their personal significance.

I agree with what Carr says, in that on a whole I think we’re certainly losing the ability to focus on larger blocks of reading – I say this after just having finished reading a 1200 page novel Deadhouse Gates, being halfway through Welcome to the Monkey House and already forty five pages into Out of Africa. The reason I mention all of that is because, before reading “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?” and especially afterwards I’ve been wondering why I have such a difficult time focusing on a book or an essay or a lengthy article. And my solution has been essentially to force myself to read, and it’s definitely been working.

The real problem seems to be tearing myself away from the internet long enough to read and then while I’m reading, if I find the writing is getting a bit slow or is uninteresting to resist the urge to put the book down (at least until I’ve read a certain amount of pages) and surf the web or play a video game.

The internet and the environment that the computer provides, which is perpetuated by consumer culture – in stores and malls – is a sort of indulgence of indecision and brief attention spans. Everything is geared to catch your attention, draw you in, and if you’re not hooked within the first few seconds there’s something else to pull your attention away and draw you in, and this repeats over and over again. Especially on the internet. It’s full of headlines and grab lines and quotes and quips, summaries and conclusions before there are even explanations, briefs and bullet lists.

Is it rewiring our brains? That’s difficult to say… I would bet that if this keeps up in say three generations there could be cognitive changes due to the sort of material and stimulation provided by the internet, but I think that right now it’s more of a conditioned, behavioral change that it’s affecting.

I don’t study cognitive science so I could just be pissing into the wind.

If reading is tough, try reading smaller, shorter books at first. Books that are written more in plain language. Use the internet, like @dynamicduo mentioned, and other short form sources like magazines and newspapers to find new things to read that you otherwise wouldn’t have been exposed to. The internet besides it’s compulsive and addictive nature is still an excellent resource.

I’ve been reading Fear and Loathing in America: The Brutal Odyssey of an Outlaw Journalist for about six months. It’s a collection of letters written by Hunter Thompson between 1968 and 1976. It’s great, he’s a great writer so it’s extremely engaging; I can read one letter or however many I feel like at a go, I put the book down for a few months which is why I haven’t finished it yet, that and it’s a bit bigger.

wundayatta's avatar

I think the reason why I spend so much time on the internet is not because it keeps my mind entertained all the time. I tend to spend time on very few sites. I think it’s because of the company. I’ve been lonely all my life. I’ve never had enough friends. I am at my best when I’m with a group of people and we’re talking.

I’ve had that sometimes in the past. I’ve participated in conversational salons. I’ve been in writing groups. I’ve been involved in politics. Most of that faded away once I had children. I truly love my children deeply, but their conversation, and that with my wife—simply isn’t enough.

I love to go to the farmers market as much for running into people and talking as I do for the fresh food. When I wander around campus, I always run into people, get into a conversation, and end up working. The internet is taking me away from this last.

Still, what attracts me here are the people. I get to have the conversations I want to have. I get to be part of a community. Sure, I don’t know what people look like, but I get a sense of their personalities through their writing.

There’s another thing that I like, too. All my life, I never knew how I was doing. I always assumed I was doing a bad job because no one was telling me I did a good one. I had great difficulty comparing myself to others for a couple of reasons. First, most of them did different things than I do. Second, it’s hard to find out. No one tells you what kind of feedback they are getting.

Here, people do tell me when they appreciate something I’ve said. I still don’t know how I compare to other people, but that doesn’t matter so much, since I am getting something I never got before. It makes me feel better about myself. It is building up my pride in myself. It helps me realize that not everything I do is pretty pathetic.

If the cost of gaining friends and feedback is no time to read a novel or watch TV, I’ll take it. Maybe, sometime, I’ll feel ok enough to not have to spend so much time here. Maybe sometime I will stop wondering how I compare, and whether I’m good enough. Maybe then, I’ll get back to reading a novel or two, and a Magazine or four—like I used to.

TitsMcGhee's avatar

Not at all. I can still read a book, write a paper, concentrate on many things. I am more likely to use the internet to procrastinate, but without it, I find other things to procrastinate with. I think the internet has actually improved my ability to multitask.

SeventhSense's avatar

I think we’re all on information overload already and so if I don’t have time to read the Yale Shakespeare, I really don’t care. I am so filled with information from school and acres and acres of papers in my brain. I am more interested in the practical application of what will transform my life personally and society in general at this point in my life. The ideas of traditional academia have actually reached a saturation point in my estimation and now we need to start to integrate all this into our lives. I think we will all start to specialize in a particular function that adds value and our focus will be simpler. And all the tedium will be left to machines.
And besides, our heroes of the pen- the Hemingways, Poes, Plath, Thompson, Toole etc. often leave tragic lives and don’t seem to be too happy. Maybe they would have been better off Fluthering?
@daloon
I think you’re swell.:)

Introverted_Leo's avatar

A little, yeah. I like to read, but when I come across something I don’t understand or don’t know much about I sometimes stop where I am in a book to research it on the internet. And then I end up spending anywhere from 20 minutes to a few hours researching stuff, lol.

So when I do read, I either have to close my laptop or just have music playing and turn off the internet. The internet seems to be my defult for learning new things b/c if I can’t find it on the internet then that’s when I’ll actually go out and get a book. (Or order one online. See the problem?)

Like @SeventhSense says, it can become an information overload. That is especially true for me. I feel like I can never learn enough, and it actually can get in the way of creativity. If you’re always worried about how much you do or don’t know and not learning to use what you do know with your imagination, then reading a whole lot of books becomes almost pointless.

SeventhSense's avatar

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages.”
Emerson

Now where did I find the entire essay in 1.5 seconds for free? And you too can read it. Now by the time I ordered the book, had it delivered and made my coffee it would be a week later.

Jamspoon's avatar

@SeventhSense Thanks for that site, it’s great, I haven’t read much of Emerson, until now.

laureth's avatar

I want to weep for the people for whom this is true. I go to school with a lot of them. These are people who vote. They don’t have the brainpower to digest information longer than a soundbite. This means that to teach them anything, it either has to be oversimplified to the point of mush (because real things in the real world are often complex), or likened to things they already know, which often isn’t much.

<<sigh>>

SeventhSense's avatar

@jamespoon
Cool. But you have to close your browser and pick up the book or it doesn’t count for knowledge.
And besides, you have to a copy on your shelf so people can see how smart you are…nudge, nudge, wink, wink.
‹(•¿•)›

MacBean's avatar

I have a 50-novel-per-year reading goal, and I always reach it, often reading closer to 75 novels. But I can’t read e-books. If something long is printed off and handed to me, I can concentrate long enough to read it. But looking at a screen, I start to skim.

marinelife's avatar

No, but I elect to limit my time on it. (Although some on Fluther may doubt that.)

janbb's avatar

I still read several hours a day – about two or three books a week usually. But I often find myself reading for 15 or 20 minutes then jumping up to check Fluther, e-mail or the news sites. I don’t feel I am concentrating as well as I used to be able to and that does bother me a great deal.

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