Food for Thought, If you can still make the time to think.

New York Times illustration

First read the New York Times book review of Nicholas Carr’s latest book, by Jonah Lehrer: The Shallows – What the Internet is Doing to Our Brain.

This was an interesting article. From the review: “Carr argues that we are sabotaging ourselves, trading away the seriousness of sustained attention for the frantic superficiality of the Internet.” This is the same interesting guy that in 1998 wrote the article “Is Google Making Us Stupid.” Trying to read that entire article personally reinforced a few of Carr’s points. The article is long, and it takes concentration to get through it. Do you have the patience to read every word of it? Nick Carr’s Blog, Rough Type, has lots of interesting thoughts from around the world on his studies. It’s hard to argue with what they say when you read them. The review presents many views. It’s not a two-sided argument, cut-and-dry. There’s gray between the black and white.

It’s interesting how we can see what he’s saying from both sides. On one hand, I know perfectly well what he means by skimming through articles looking for the worthwhile nuggets that I’m after, and on the other hand I can see how I don’t really want to concentrate on anything for any length of time, when it comes to genuine in-depth studying. Thankfully, doing physical things is not as affected by our quick-run-through habits we’re developing from reading on the net. I don’t have as much trouble sticking with washing the dishes as I do with concentrating on something I’m reading for a long time. How about you? My daughter-in-law Fiona can spend hours, days, weeks doing manual labor in her many gardens… planting, working the soil, weeding, etc. Can any of us still read, analyze and study for such sustained periods of time? I know that I have lost some of my ability to do this. Maybe it’s because I’ve recently joined the 50+ generation, or because I’m a net junkie, or a combination of the two.

Having just started back to school in a Master’s program, it will be interesting to try and compare my studying during my Bachelor’s degree years, “pre-net” (can you spell dinosaur?) and my 2010 study habits now that my mind has been wrapped in the web since its inception.

What’s your take on this one?


About Les O'Riley

A technical writer by trade, I was laid off during the recession. I am currently finishing my Master's degree in Occupational Safety & Health. I am the Safety Lab Graduate Assistant for Southeastern Oklahoma State University.
This entry was posted in 2010 June and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Food for Thought, If you can still make the time to think.

  1. Carl Stapf says:

    Newspapers and magazines have the ability to take their reporters stories articles and news and put them in neat packets / sections.
    Google takes the same and additional material stories and articles from all reporters around the world and disassembles the information into one group so you don’t need to sort out the information you do not want to read.
    A mind needs to be open and you still need the ability to decipher what you want to read and put the importance to the subject matter. Both are desirable in many ways, which is your pleasure?

    • Les O'Riley says:

      Interesting you should pick the word “pleasure” rather than “choice.” Thankfully I do not need to make a choice between the two. I have both and use both. However, I read far less books than I used to, and way more on the net. I have never read something on the net that gave me the inner satisfaction of reading a good book, say “The Brothers Karamazov,” by Dostoyevsky, all of its roughly 1,000 pages available on Google Books. I don’t even really like reading long articles on the net. If there were a long article by a favorite author on the net, I would get more pleasure out of reading it printed out on paper than scrolling down my screen. Is it just me? When I was a kid, I read all of Kurt Vonnegut’s books as they came out, one after the other, like a kid eating candy. I wonder if I would have done the same if they were all published solely to the net. I can’t really say, because I haven’t lived that reality. On the other hand, if you want to go hard core, always a fun thing to do with debates (remember our “What 3 foods would you take to an island if that’s the only choices you’d ever have again debate?) I would have to say if the choice were posed… from now to eternity, which will it be, books or web, I’d choose the web. (But don’t take away my printer.) How about you, Carl.. only what you can get in print, or only what you have on the web?

      • Carl Stapf says:

        Using this context you wrote “(remember our “What 3 foods would you take to an island if that’s the only choices you’d ever have again debate?)” The Time machine by H.G. Wells used this premise as with what 3 books did he take back (forward) when he returned? This made you think! When I was young (and the earth was still cooling (LOL)) I too got into a series of books, Tom Swift Jr. by Victor Appleton II. Tom Swift Jr. books by Victor Appleton II narrate the exploits of the son of Tom Swift.
        Grosset & Dunlap first published the series in 1954 and ended the series in 1971. A total of 33 titles were printed.
        The books were printed in 3 variations.
        # 1-17 was originally published with dust jackets. In the early 1960’s, these 17 books were reprinted as blue spine picture cover books.
        #18 has a neat wrap around picture cover printing.
        The above are to name a few!
        These books somehow led me into my engineering profession. I used to travel about 5 miles on my bicycle to the book store to see if any new editions were out. I also was able to roam through the numerous stories on the shelves which I devoured like “I Robot”. Now if I had the “Kindle” or “IPad”, which were not available at the time (way into the/my future), would I have been as interested in them, who knows. I do not read in the “dense sense” I used to, I now use the “Bing or Google” method on the NET which is quick and to the point. Which is better flip a coin – “Heads I win – Tails you lose”
        FYI – This is my second draft, it said I did not have a correct email address and it deleted the first one – “Dang Modern Corn-viences”

      • Les O'Riley says:

        So sorry your first draft got blown away. Yeah, isn’t technology great? I took 30 – 45 minutes to prepare a post for the Wall Street Journal, only to find out their group posting function wasn’t working. It will probably be two weeks (again) before they get it fixed, and by then I won’t even care. So it goes, Carl. Thanks for the post. I’m with you… I’ll hold a book, flip the pages, and enjoy every bit of them. Who wants to take a break from the computer and “go read a Kindle” for a while!

  2. mary says:

    I think that I may be a little too old to be asking this question, since they don’t write things like they did when I was taught in school. Like sometimes the net says that I have spelled a word wrong and when I check the dictionary my way is right along with some others. One word for instance is ‘alright’, the net says that is wrong, but that is the way that I was taught to spell it. So who is right.
    Also another thing that I have fault with in today’s writings is that you have to read the whole article to find out the who, where, why and when of the story. And then when you are through you still don’t know much.
    I read a lot of books, check out 3 or 4 books every 2 weeks. The books that hold my attention are the ones that have been written years ago, like “The Woman of Substance” by Bradford. These new writers seem to jump all over the place with there story.
    Hey, I don’t know if I said anything that had any meaning, but it was my thoughts.

    • Les O'Riley says:

      One thing is for sure. Just because something written today is “new” it doesn’t mean it’s any “good.” 😉 As for reference type material, I find it’s always good to check a few sources, go with the majority if there’s a discrepancy.

  3. I think the author is right. Although I don’t consider myself a professional journalist or blogger, I write regular blog posts as part of my marketing duties.
    It seems most the posts on our corporate blog are less than four paragraphs, so I feel constant pressure to keep my articles as brief as possible, even at the expense of relevant content.
    People who’ve been raised on online communication don’t have the patience to read an article of more than 700 words or so.
    But I think blaming the internet is a bit superficial. Exposure to video games, (in which images frequently change at over 50 times per second) also has a deleterious affect on our collective concentration. MTV has the same impact on cable TV viewers and has been fracturing minds since the mid-80s.
    In short, our entire pop culture is assaulting our ability to think clearly.
    The important questions are:
    why is this being done, and what can we do to counteract it?

    • Les O'Riley says:

      Good points, Jerry. Although I dare say that we have been having our concentration skills knocked down even before MTV. Even just good ol’ black and white TV taught us to stuff our dinner into our mouths in the 2 minutes of show time, run to the bathroom in the 30 – 60 second breaks, and be back in time for the next bite when the show starts. Remember when there was such a thing as a “TV dinner?” I think most meals are “TV dinners” now. Maybe not frozen meals, more than likely something brought home from McDonald’s or Sonic. Something quick before gearing up for video games. Say, what were we talking about? Let me check my Google cache…

  4. cliff says:

    For the last few decades I have thought there is a general dumbing down occurring connected to popular culture and the human desire for acceptance and relationships. I don’t think there is anything that can be done about it on a collective basis, only individuals. I have 4 teens and they are into the net, texting, Itunes,computer games, and Netflix. Homeschooling may be the only thing that has saved them from total absorption into the pop culture world, and they do exhibit discernment and discretion to a degree that may save them– the jury is still out.

    • Les O'Riley says:

      Cliff ~ I wish for your kids the best of success, and sanity for you and your wife while raising 4 teens! I also agree with you on what you said. I think that those of us from the baby-boomer generation can see it the clearest, because we’ve experienced life without all this stuff. Those raised in it don’t even know what life was like outside their bubble. In time, they will say the same to their kids, but in some other sense that we haven’t even experienced yet. Life goes on.

  5. cliff says:

    I also wanted to say that, starting college at age 42 and still finishing grad school I had a 3.85-3.91 GPA and look smart on paper cuz I could ace the tests with short-term memory- but ask me those same questions two months later and I’d look at you stupid and say, “Like, duhh, whatever…”

    • Les O'Riley says:

      I know what you mean. Life has convinced me that we can learn a lot, but we’ll only retain what we need to use. I have 18 hours behind me in French, yet without having used it, I can’t speak any more French than a poodle.

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