Saturday, November 6, 2010

Skimming the shallows

Have you noticed lately that your ability to concentrate has dropped off? I have, especially when it comes to reading. And I'm an old-school, hard-core kind of reader, so it's a bit weird. I'm finding that when I bring my customary stack of three or four books home from the library, I'm then reading only one or two of them. I have little patience for books that don't grab me instantly, or magazine stories that go on too long.

I've worked on newspapers and used to be a cover-to-cover kind of reader. These days I flip, scanning headlines, and only stop if a story looks sufficiently enticing. Trouble is, of course, most newspaper stories are already at least 12 or 24 hours old and we know the news already from a thousand other sources. Which is why, of course, newspapers are having such a hard time of it.

But according to author Nicholas Carr, there's more to it than stale news. He reckons that the internet, and all the other fast-moving media we're saturated with, is forcing us into too much multi-tasking, making us distracted and turning our brains to mush. Well, he's too cautious to put it quite like that, but it's the general thrust of his book, The Shallows: How the internet is changing the way we think, read and remember. Carr gathers lots of scholarly evidence to show that even as we're enjoying the many excellent things the web has to offer, it is rewiring our brains, flattening our brilliance, reducing our capacity for deep, meditative thought - and suppressing human empathy and compassion.

He writes, "There is no Sleepy Hollow on the Internet, no peaceful spot where contemplativeness can work its resorative magic. There is only the endless, mesmerizing buzz of the urban street."

Oops. Just as well I've taken a quiet walk by the sea today. But then I did come home to get back to my keyboard and write this blog, send three emails and post videos on two websites, all time thinking of my next media projects as well. And it's Sunday, supposedly the day of rest. Perhaps Mr Carr is right. Sigh. Time to switch off the laptop and firmly close the office door.

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