Driven to distraction

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.

– Grouch Marx

Stoooopid …. why the Google generation isn’t as smart as it thinks
The digital age is destroying us by ruining our ability to concentrate

by Bryan Appleyard

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David Meyer is professor of psychology at the University of Michigan. In 1995 his son was killed by a distracted driver who ran a red light. Meyer’s speciality was attention: how we focus on one thing rather than another

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The opposite of attention is distraction, an unnatural condition and one that, as Meyer discovered in 1995, kills. Now he is convinced that chronic, long-term distraction is as dangerous as cigarette smoking. In particular, there is the great myth of multitasking. No human being, he says, can effectively write an e-mail and speak on the telephone. Both activities use language and the language channel in the brain can’t cope. Multitaskers fool themselves by rapidly switching attention and, as a result, their output deteriorates.

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In an influential essay in The Atlantic magazine, Nicholas Carr asks: “Is Google making us stupid?” Carr, a chronic distractee like the rest of us, noticed that he was finding it increasingly difficult to immerse himself in a book or a long article – “The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

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But this isn’t the informational paradise dreamt of by Bill Gates and Google: 90% of sites visited by teenagers are social networks. They are immersed not in knowledge but in “gossip and social banter”.

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One irony that lies behind all this is the myth that children are good at this stuff. Adults often joke that their 10-year-old has to fix the computer. But it’s not true. Studies show older people are generally more adept with computers than younger. This is because, like all multitaskers, the kids are deluding themselves into thinking that busy-ness is depth when, in fact, they are skimming the surface of cyberspace as surely as they are skimming the surface of life. It takes an adult imagination to discriminate, to make judgments; and those are the only skills that really matter.

The concern of all these writers and thinkers is that it is precisely these skills that will vanish from the world as we become infantilised cyber-serfs, our entertainments and impulses maintained and controlled by the techno-geek aristocracy. They have all noted – either in themselves or in others – diminishing attention spans, inability to focus, a loss of the meditative mode. “I can’t read War and Peace any more,” confessed one of Carr’s friends. “I’ve lost the ability to do that. Even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb. I skim it.”

Full Article

I’ve noticed the same thing as described in the bold quote happening to me.

The ancient Greeks were worried when writing made its way into their culture, taking away the need for massive amounts of memory and mental discipline. The world went on and prospered in many ways as a result of writing. Deep thinking didn’t die out.

On the other hand, in regards to the Grouch Marx quote above, I grew up hearing adults go on about how TV was degrading the capacities and education of the youth. Study after study over decades has proven them right. The pre television generation was more literate and educated.

Who knows how web technology will shape things going forward?

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