June 6, 2010

"What I started noticing around 2007 was that I seemed to be losing my ability to concentrate."

"Not just when I was sitting at a computer. Even when the computer was off and I tried to read a book, to sustain a single train of thought, I found it difficult."

If you don't click through and read the whole interview, you'll be proving him right. But he wants you to read his whole book. If you need to read it, you won't be able to. You won't want to. La la. Stay here with meeeee.......

48 comments:

New "Hussein" Ham said...

"Stay here with meeeee.......:

It's Instapundit's world. We're all just ...

Pogo said...

"In Carr's new book The Shallows, he explores in greater depth the cognitive and historic implications of"

Squirrel!

Omnibus Driver said...

Right. I've been reading blogs for years, and writing my own for almost six years. It's made me lose so much concentration that I've only managed to read the better part of 81 books in the first five months of 2010.

Pitiful, isn't it?

Flexo said...

Yes and no.

Yes, reading on the Interwebs does tend to lead one to read and concentrate in only short bursts. However, interaction on the web can actually stimulate deeper and extended thinking, as when one responds with a substantive comment on a blog, or writes a blog oneself.

At the same time, it did not take the Internet for me to develop a habit of speeding through texts. Any time I did legal research for a motion/brief with hardcopy books, before the Internet (and when Lexis and Westlaw searches took forever), I'd zip through dozens of keynotes and cases in a short amount of time, concentrating very little on each one. It didn't take the Internet for me to develop a need for something new to catch my attention.

What computers did totally destroy is my handwriting.

Dust Bunny Queen said...

He needs to take up knitting.

Knit an Aran pattern sweater. That'll make you concentrate.

ricpic said...

The same person (me) who repeatedly loses his hats and glasses and forgets what he came to the supermarket to shop for can concentrate totallyon a task that counts and that is CENTRAL to his existence. Which gives the lie to all of the neverending stories about the latest bit of technology destroying this or that human capacity.

Dead Julius said...

It takes the slightest bit of self-discipline to not follow that hyperlink and turn off the computer. Then you can do something else like reading a book.

And saying that the Internet is bad, bad, bad is a cheap shot to take. It's the old anti-technology screed adapted to the 21st century.

AllenS said...

Then shut the computer off. I've found out that after a couple of beers I'm a lot smarter.

michaele said...

For me, that rings fairly true. The only time I choose a book over blogs and web articles is when I'm travelling on a plane. It's more loyalty to a ritual from days gone by that I still stick to the form of an old fashioned paperback.

Paul Zrimsek said...

Say what? The only reason I read War and Peace was I decided I didn't have enough time to read the latest Glenn Greenwald post.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

Carr is crazy. My concentration is as good as

lemondog said...

I guess if one goes back 50 years or so one would read similar arguments about the brain, attention span and TV.

I've heard much that the brain is malleable and can continue to change.

There are trade-offs in life.

If it is a great concern, get off the net and rewire your brain.

But is his diminishing ability to concentrate something genetic?

John Burgess said...

Carr's remarks seem typical of the 'new intellectual' pud-pulling.

Perhaps I'm not in his demographic (though I enjoy most of his books), but in addition to spending hours on line every day, I still somehow manage to read four or five actual, paper books every week, fiction and non-fiction.

Perhaps Carr is simply lamenting an early onset of old age that is diminishing his abilities?

WV: capho one who must acquire gimme caps at any cost.

Paul said...

What the internet has done to me is make me very impatient for writers to get to the point. I like my information concise. No more endless padded New Yorker articles. Some bloggers are too wordy for me. Not Althouse, though.

Irene said...

DBQ, I agree. I also would toss in a fair isle project to the concentration mix.

Pogo said...

Neil Postman wrote Carr's book three times, years ago.

edutcher said...

He's 51, so this is part of aging. Somebody else who needs top wake up and smell the Ovaltine.

PS DBQ and Irene, painting military miniatures has a similar effect. The Blonde got me started about a year ago - partly, I'm guessing, because she doesn't want me to end up like her mother - or mine.

Scott said...

What?

Andrea said...

Like edutcher said, this loss of concentration is part of growing older. My ability to sit and read for hours was fading long before I started reading internet sites, which was somewhere in the late 90s, when I was in my thirties. When I was younger I used to read one book straight through, resenting all interruptions including the need for eating and sleeping, and then go on to the next one. Then I started getting into the habit of reading several books at once -- I'd pick one up, read it a while, put it down, then pick up another one. I still do that. It has nothing to do with the sparkly, shiny web. In fact, I write a lot more now than I ever did pre-internet; I just do it on the computer instead of with pen and paper.

c3 said...

Haven't we been hearing this since the invention of television

shoutingthomas said...

When I was in college, and in the few years after I graduated, I read all the great novels.

I'm glad I did. And, I don't have any interest in novels anymore.

That was then, and this is now.

I read a ton of technical and scientific stuff on the web. It's all out there.

The passivity of reading fiction, and even political stuff, no longer does anything for me. Although I enjoy arguing about politics, I regard politics as a complete waste of time.

What really fascinates me is that I've been able to build a video and audio editing studio in my own home for cheap, that I can do animation on my home computer (iMac), and that the tools of production are all in my hands.

The outlook that I once had... that literary and political ideas were really important... strikes me now as preposterously lazy. It's true. Opinions really are like assholes.

My appetite for fiction, even in the movies, has just about died. I now regard just about all fiction as unreliable propaganda.

Remember all that sparring about Matthew Shepard in a previous thread? Years ago, I might have gotten caught up in the symbolic argument about a man that all the opinionators don't even know. Now, I understand acutely that every opinionator invents his own Shepard for the sake of his argument. I am especially suspicious about the martyrdom plots that political advocates love to cook up.

The scene has shifted to science and technology. The best place to read about this is the web. I download entire books all the time. Most of them are technical. I want to know how to do useful things, not how to have the correct opinions.

'Cause, really, opinions are useless. I know that mine are. Yours are, too.

Synova said...

That happened to me and what it was is that I needed reading glasses.

David said...

D-Day + 66.

Concentrate on that for a few moments, if you can.

Synova said...

"He's 51, so this is part of aging. Somebody else who needs top wake up and smell the Ovaltine."

Yes.

Lack of sleep (if you're staying up to web surf or not, or if you have small children) will turn your brain to mush, too.

But most seriously... I've always been ADD and I'm on the internet all of the time and I have very little patience for anything that doesn't get right to the point and all it took to get me back to enjoying reading novels was a pair of reading glasses.

Chip Ahoy said...

It's made me a lot more critical of books. Nowadays I pick up a book, flip through it, and think to myself, "This book has only three basic pop-up mechanisms repeated throughout with variations. You call that an effort?"

I kid.

But seriously, I am more critical than ever, and a book had better be immediately interesting or it can just piss right off. Like that last book about crackers. I read it in twenty minutes and it was very disappointing. Would you like to see some crackers I'm making? Here, and here.

edutcher said...

Synova, I know what you mean. A blog piece or something on a site like pajamasmedia that turns into a doctoral dissertation that takes forever to get to the point loses me quickly.

David said...

D-Day + 66.

Concentrate on that for a few moments, if you can.


We shouldn't forget Rome + 66, Biak + 66, or Myitkyina + 66, either. Thanks to the media, we tend to concentrate on a few big things and lose sight of all the other men who gave their all.

Synova said...

Oh wow, those crackers look good.

What's that baking screen thing called and does it work to make crackers just on a cookie sheet?

rani said...

This is very nice posting. I started reading internet sites, which was somewhere in the late 90s, when I was in my thirties. When I was younger I used to read one book straight through, resenting all interruptions including the need for eating and sleeping, and then go on to the next one student aid. Then I started getting into the habit of reading several books at once -- I'd pick one up, read it a while, put it down, then pick up another one. I still do that. It has nothing to do with the sparkly, shiny web thanks.

Christopher said...

'Cause, really, opinions are useless. I know that mine are. Yours are, too.

The opinionated people who brought us Obamacare are banking on enough of our fellow citizens to share that... opinion.

traditionalguy said...

How much botox does he use?

traditionalguy said...

This is as stupid a hit piece as I have seen. It is like a Calvary General claiming that mechanised infantry and tanks were ruining the ability of soldiers to ride horses well. More intelligence at your finger tips should not cause mourning over slow pitch paper books days. Maybe he is a kinesthetic learner.

Chip Ahoy said...

Synova, that's a silicone silpat. Yes, it works on just a cookie sheet. The uninteresting book I mentioned, outdated, says to cut them then lift them individually to a cookie sheet, but that's ridiculous. Better to score them, bake as one giant sheet, then break apart after the crackers are baked. Parchment paper also works great. The good thing about it is that you can roll it directly onto the paper or silpat and transfer all at once to a cookie sheet.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

How is this skipping about topics different from reading a magazine or a newspaper in the two or three previous generations?

The sustained reading required for a book is indeed something else, and I also notice the difference in my ability to stay with it. Even on a recent train-ride of hours, it was a chore to focus on a book.

Pogo said...

"...to sustain a single train of thought, I found it difficult."

"Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."
Samuel Johnson

Pogo said...

Would those last two weeks be better spent reading Imitation of Christ or Streib's Death Penalty in a Nutshell?


It's a gamble!

Iapetus said...

"It's made me lose so much concentration that I've only managed to read the better part of 81 books...."

Omnibus Driver, your confession proves his point. You were able to read only the "better part" instead of getting all the way to the end. If you eliminate the distractions, next time you pick up a book you'll be able to read all of it, not just the better part. :-)

rhhardin said...

Even when the computer was off

There's your trouble. Mine is on 24/7.

amba said...

What an old fogey.

Actually the IDEAL thing to be is an old fart with new technology. If your mind was circuit-trained on books, you can still do the deep, muscular, acrobatic thinking -- only faster.

I have trouble imagining what it would be like to come to electronic media bringing only experiences with electronic media.

knox said...

But seriously, I am more critical than ever, and a book had better be immediately interesting or it can just piss right off.

Yes! Authors beware. No more coasting.

amba said...

And that IS a problem.

amba said...

What computers did totally destroy is my handwriting.

So true!

Penny said...

Carr is concerned about his own ability to concentrate. Whether that is computer-use driven or age driven or a combination of the two, who knows?

The suggestion to STOP!, STEP AWAY FROM THAT COMPUTER! READ A BOOK! *My book, please * came off as a “shallow” answer. Of course this was only a shallow, puff piece in “The Atlantic”, so our expectations were most likely not in “high tide” mode anyway.

This is where the question Carr raises got interesting for me, however, because I also suffer from a lack of concentration, and blame a large portion of that on internet use. Ironically, I googled Nicholas Carr, whose last book was entitled, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” That led me to his web site, his blog post and comment section on this topic, which led me to links for researchers and to other articles, two which I wanted to share for those interested in the topic. Both are from yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. The first was written by Carr. “Does the Internet Make You Dumber?” The second was written by Clay Shirky. “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?”

Hours and hours later, I am less concerned about my ability to concentrate. haha

Penny said...

The message that I got when I tried to share those WSJ links in the above post said that the http part of those links wasn't accepted. Never ran into that before when lifting a link and placing here.

Can anyone shed some light?

Jeremy said...

Queen - You actually think the tea baggers who are here every day...read books?

Now, that's funny.

Methadras said...

I don't have the problem of concentration or distractions because of google or comp... Oh look, it's a vampire!!!

traditionalguy said...

Jeremy...Tea Party people don't need lots of books. A short pamphlet by Thomas Paine entitled Common Sense set off the first tea party that lead to the Shot Heard around the world at Lexington...and finally to England's surrender at Yorktown. Who needs lots of books.

Tyrone Slothrop said...

@Jeremy

I just love how fair and tolerant the left is. Aren't we all impressed?

Synova said...

The problem with "books" is that if one reads "books" the argument is shifted so that they aren't the right sort of books and thus don't count.

I've read approximately a novel a day for the last two weeks. It's not any less of a time waste than the internet, nor more of a time waste than the internet.