A few days ago I finally turned to some academic work that I had been putting off for a while. I turned off all my distractions – Tweetdeck, Googlemail, my phone, the tv. Then I sat in a quiet room and did the work using only a PDF of the arthcle I was studying and notepad on my laptop.
I had spent the week leading up to that being in charge of childcare, but nevertheless had grabbed a few minutes here and there to get some work done – planning, preparation, admin and the like. I had also held some really interesting conversations on Twitter, read some interesting blogs and responded to the odd e-mail. You may be wondering exactly how I care for my children, but it’s amazing what you can fo with CBeebies on in the room…
Somehow I’d never felt able to focus on the academic stuff with the kids about, and when I came to the study itself, I had also felt the necessity of turning off the online distractions.
I hadn’t thought conciously about that decision until today when I read a really good article in the Telegraph called ‘How the Internet is making us stupid’ by Nicholas Carr.
He has pulled together various bits of research that show how all the distractions we engage reduce the depth at which we think. We are becoming shallow thinkers.
He writes things like: ‘people who juggle many tasks are often less creative and less productive than those who do one thing at a time.’
And: ‘People who read text studded with links, the studies show, comprehend less than those who read words printed on pages.’
He also quotes developmental psychologist, Patricia Greenfeld who says that while ‘every medium develops some cognitive skills at the expense of others’ there are ‘new weaknesses in higher-order cognitive processes.’
And Roman philosopher Seneca who said: ‘To be everywhere is to be nowhere.’
He goes on to quote neuroscientist Michael Merzenich who said that as our brains adapt to this shallow way of thinking, ‘the long term effect on the quality of our intellectual lives could be deadly.’
Now I’m not to sure about that. I think we need to be able adapt to different ways of thinking for different purposes, which is what I found the other evening when I successfully engaged in some study. But I do agree with him when he says that ‘skimming is becoming our dominant mode of thought’. I’ve been guilty of spending too long in skimming mode recently and that whole way of thinking has stopped me from even being ready to attempt any academic study.
I must be determined not to let ‘skimming’ be my default mode and schedule myself time to engage in different types of thinking.
Do you agree with Carr’s article? Have you read any research that indicates the positive impacts on thinking of using social media?