Monday, June 24, 2013
Attention Deficit and the Effect on Reading and Writing
by Julia Buckley
When I was a student I had a great attention span. I sat through eight years of Catholic grade school--one teacher per year, the same basic class for eight years--and listened to what was mainly lecture for the whole day. I started first grade in 1971, and there wasn't much buzz in the world of education about hands-on learning, literature circles, group work or varied learning styles (or if there was, it didn't reach my educators). So it was lots of listening, reading and writing, and I did fine in that environment. I read many books outside of school, too (the library was one of our favorite haunts), but I read them one and a time, and I didn't skim. I was a linear reader, starting with the prologue or first chapter, and ending at the end. No jumping ahead, no reading the ending first. I followed the rules.
In high school and college I followed a similar model. It was only in my adulthood that I realized, as time became a more and more precious commodity and the sudden reality of the Internet offered more and more ways to divide that time, that I had to make choices. These choices are endless, and they look like this:
1. Which books to read? What's at the top of the TBR list?
2. Which books to write? How much time is allotted for writing versus reading?
3. Which books will make me interrupt other books because I'm excited to read them? How many books can I read at the same time?
4. Which books, because of their vastness (GAME OF THRONES, I'm looking at you), will I find myself skimming because I just can't wait that many hours to find some of the answers I'm seeking from this text?
5. How much time can I conceivably spend on Facebook without it being a waste of my life force?
6. How much time, realistically, can be spent on promotion of my own books that might not pay off in any way?
7. How much time will I have left AFTER I grade papers and do lesson planning for my paying job?
8. How much leisure reading is allowable, and when does it become a vice that I must sneak in behind closed doors?
9. How much time is there for blogging, tweeting, web-siting? Is it worth it, or is it an exercise in vanity--a cry into outer space?
10. How many times will I interrupt the thing I'm doing NOW because I thought of another thing I also need to do, and I figure I should do it while I'm thinking of it?
In answer to number ten: a lot of times. In fact, today I noticed that I had four different windows open on my laptop and I kept jumping back and forth between them, just as my mind jumps back and forth. Gone are the days of my linear thinking, and scientists theorize that this new hop-scotching thinking will eventually re-wire our brains.
My activity looked like this: I was working on a new book, but then remembered that there was a photo I wanted to e-mail someone. I did so, then returned to the book, only to remember that I had wanted to Google "Jeanette Walls" because I am reading and admiring THE GLASS CASTLE. I read about Walls and saw that she was writing a new book, so I clicked on the article telling me about that. Then I read that Walls was married to another writer, so I clicked on the link telling me what he wrote. Oops. Back to my
book. But then my son told me he wanted to buy a new television with his graduation money (it's always about the newest technology) and he wanted me to look at the link he sent me. So I did. Then I took a break to read some of THE GLASS CASTLE. Back to the writing, which involved Googling a bunch of different things that I needed to know for the book, including some details about towns bombed during WWII and which German beers are most delicious.
I can understand why, at some point, they say we'll need to download information from external drives into our brains, which can only hold so much information. There are days that mine feels like it's overflowing.
In any case, I am reading several books at once, and I'm managing to keep them separate in my mind.
Do you have an attention-deficit or non-linear life dilemma? Are we the victims of our technological advances? Do you still read the way you read twenty years ago? If not, which way is better?