I found an interesting article by Nicholas Carr, published in the on-line edition of The Atlantic. The article is called, “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains” http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200807/google.
Carr contends that he’s noticed a change in his own thought patterns. Time was he could easily get lost in a long book or complex article, but now he has trouble keeping his attention focused for a few pages. He attributes this to a decade of surfing the net: retrieving quick facts needed for a story, following hyperlinks, checking blogs, and constantly exposing himself to multi-media functions like podcasts and videos.
Carr’s quote that struck me particularly was, “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”
Carr goes on for several pages, citing anecdotes from other friends in the same predicament, scientific studies being conducted in Britain and at George Mason University in Washington, D.C., and a fascinating story about the German philosopher, Frederick Nietzsche (1844-1900) acquisition of his first typewriter, and how it changed his writing style.
The article made me think.
Once, in graduate school, I read every word of Julian Jaynes’, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind. If I remember correctly, I didn’t even understand the title until about page 80. When I finished the book, I felt as though I’d completed a performance worthy of Olympic gold. I was very proud of myself for tackling and conquering a new, complex concept.
If Nicholas Carr, his anecdotal friends, and neurological programming research are correct, I’m risking that ability to understand complexity by what I’m doing at this very minute. As an aside, I’ve kept track of the electronic side trips I’ve done so far to write this blog. I’ve left the actual writing 5 times to
--check where George Masion University is located
--verify the dates for Frederick Nietzsche’s life
--check the author and date published of “…Bicameral Mind”
--pull a writing quote from my electronic stash, and
--verify the identify of Rutherford D. Rodgers
So what’s the difference between I’ve just done and physically getting up from my computer to verify facts from leather-bound references books in my extensive library? One is speed: click-click-click-click. Safari-Google search-fact-back to blog. The other is sensory input. My Safari screen, the Google search screen, and the five different sites I visited all had a different look, in different colors, with different arrangements of the information on the screen, and were crammed not only with the fact I needed, but with advertisements, side-bars, other links, and much, much distraction. Yet, in each case, I was able to process the visual presentation in order to locate the fact I needed in less than 10 seconds.
At least we, as authors, have an advantage. We are forced routinely to confront the blank page, and to create there something devoid of blinking banner headlines, dancing hamsters, multi-hued type in six different fonts, and a side-bar asking us to take this quick quiz to see if we’re paying too much for auto insurance.
I don’t want to lose my ability to understand—in fact, to create—a complexity of ideas. If I do, my fiction is going to suffer. On the other hand, I’m not quite sure how to go about it because I’m not giving up the Internet. So, this morning, I’m opening up a new “note to self.” What kinds of things can I do to preserve the complexity of my thought processes?
Write in long-hand from time to time?
Listen to complex instrumental music? That doesn’t mean only classical music. Something like Phillip Glass or the Toronto-based percussion ensemble, Nexus, can be quite complex.
Read a tough book?
Cut out background noise, like a radio or TV playing while I’m working?
I know it’s a short-list and I’m looking for more ideas. Any thoughts on how to retain the ability to think in complex terms? Suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Writing quote for the week:
We’re drowning in information and starving for knowledge.
~Rutherford D. Rodgers, Yale librarian, commenting on the enormous number of books, periodicals, and other documents published each year.
This quote was made twenty-three years ago, in February 1985. Mr. Rodgers and the rest of us had hardly scratched the surface of the multi-media, information glut now available on the web.