What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: A Recap

9.25.2014



As previously mentioned, I picked up The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr to read on our road trip to South Dakota. Probably not your average road trip reading material, but I had heard it mentioned by a few people and thought it sounded interesting.

This is going to be less of a book review and more of a book recap. Spark Notes style, if you will. Because this book was super interesting, and I want to share some of the quotes that stuck out to me and then hopefully have some discussion in the comments. (That's assuming you make it all the way through this post, which, if this book knows what it's talking about, most of you won't. Challenge extended!)

*But first! A short disclaimer: The following is by no means all of the interesting material from this book. I picked just a few things to talk about here so this post didn't get too crazy long...er than it already is. Also, Nicholas Carr doesn't hate the Internet, and in the book he admits that there are many advantages to it. Also, just as far as a book review goes, most of the book I found easy to comprehend for the average person (aka me). But there were a few points at which he dives into some scientific brain stuff that was over my head, and I just kind of skimmed those sections.

Let's start things off with a question to consider: Do you control your technology? Or does your technology control you?

"In the end, we come to pretend that the technology itself doesn't matter. It's how we use it that matters, we tell ourselves. The implication is that we're in control. The technology is just a tool, inert until we pick it up and inert again once we set it aside." (p. 3)

All well and good, right? But Carr continues:

"[The technology] is so much our servant that it would seem churlish to notice that it is also our master." (p. 4)

Basically he is suggesting that we like to think that we control our technology, specifically the Internet, because we can put it down or turn it off whenever we want. But really it is starting to control us because even when we put it down or turn it off, it's already changed the way our brains function. Here's another quote:

"Calm, focused, undistracted, the linear mind is being pushed aside by a new kind of mind that wants and needs to take in and dole out information in short, disjointed, often overlapping bursts--the faster, the better." (p. 10)

Oral Language and the Printing Press

In the first few chapters, Carr goes into the history of stories, discussing the earliest forms of oral language where memory was the only way to continue traditions and pass down stories to younger generations. A little later, we started carving letters into stone and pounded papyrus into scrolls. In those days, words and stories were only for the elite. 

Gutenberg's invention of the printing press brought words to the masses and made book reading popular. "To read a long book silently required an ability to concentrate intently over a long period of time. ... Developing such mental discipline was not easy. Reading is valuable not just for the knowledge readers acquired from the author's words but for the way those words set off intellectual vibrations within their own minds." (p. 64-65)

In today's society, the truth is that people just don't read any more. Why? We're losing that ability to "concentrate intently," and the internet is changing the way our minds process the things we see and read on a daily basis.  It's actually, Carr says, refiguring the way our brains are wired to process information.

Carr says that with billboards and ads and blogs and social media, we're probably reading more than we ever have in human history. But are we "concentrating intently" or just skimming? That's the question.

"The searchability of online works represents a variation on older navigational aids such as tables of contents, indexes, and concordances. As with links, the ease and ready availability of searching make it much simpler to jump between digital documents than it ever was to jump between printed ones. ... A search engine often draws our attention to a particular snippet of text, a few words or sentences that have strong relevance to whatever we're searching for at the moment, while providing little incentive for taking in the work as a whole." (p. 90)

The Computer's Effect on Writing & Publishing

Something I found interesting was Carr's take on the technology of e-readers and how they have affected the way we think about writing.

"The provisional nature of digital text promises to influence writing styles. A printed book is a finished object. The finality of the act of publishing has long instilled in the best and most conscientious writers and editors a desire, even an anxiety, to perfect the works they produce... Electronic text is impermanent. In the digital marketplace, revision can go on indefinitely." (p. 107)

He goes on to say that we will no longer feel the pressure of perfection because we can easily write and edit our words. When letters were pounded into stone or a handwritten note was penned in ink, don't you think the writers took special care to make sure they said exactly what they wanted to say? Now, we text while we walk and send emails from our iphones with disclaimers telling readers to "please ignore grammatical errors."

Maybe it's just the editor in me talking, but when it comes to the written word, I think a little pressure of perfection is more than acceptable. I mean, when did simple spelling errors in a professional context become okay?

I found this quote compelling:

"Our indulgence in the pleasures of informality and immediacy has led to a narrowing of expressiveness and a loss of eloquence." (p. 108)

Would you agree or disagree?

The Juggler's Brain

Carr spends a chapter discussing what he calls the "juggler's brain." The idea being that the Internet "delivers a steady stream of inputs" to our senses: our fingers and hands as we hold our iPads and as we click, scroll, type, and touch our mouses, keyboards, and screens; our ears as we hear e-mail alerts and social media dings; and our eyes, obviously, as ads and alters flash and pop up as we click from page to page.

"The Net commands our attention with far greater intensity than our television or radio or mourning newspaper ever did... When we're online, we're often oblivious to everything else going on around us. The real world recedes as we process the flood of symbols and stimuli coming through our devices." (p. 117-118)

Where it really gets interesting is when Carr posits why sustained concentration is so difficult online. I mean, if the Internet is commanding our attention like he says, why do we find ourselves so distracted? I'm going to quote him again, because I can't really say it better:

"The need to evaluate links and make related navigational choices, while also processing a multiplicity of fleeting sensory stimuli, requires constant mental coordination and decision making, distracting the brain from the work of interpreting text or other information. Whenever we, as readers, come upon a link, we have to pause, for at least a split second, to allow our prefrontal cortex to evaluate whether or not we should click on it. The redirection of our mental resources, from reading words to making judgments, may be imperceptible to us, but it's been shown to impede comprehension and retention." (p. 122)

Isn't that fascinating? I had never thought of it like that before, but it makes perfect sense!

Just a few more things. First, I want to share the following quote about the pattern in which we read online, which I had also never thought of before but found completely true, at least in my case. I'm interested to know if this holds true for you as well.

"In 2006, Jakob Nielsen conducted an eye-tracking study of Web users. He had 232 people wear a small camera that tracked their eye movements as they read pages of text and browsed other content. Nielsen found that hardly any of the participants read online text in a methodical, line-by-line way, as they'd typically read a page of text in a book. 

"The vast majority skimmed the text quickly, their eyes skipping down the page in a pattern that resembled, roughly, the letter F. 

"They'd start by glancing all the way across the first two or three lines of text. Then their eyes would drop down a bit, and they'd scan about halfway across a few more lines. Finally, they'd let their eyes cursorily drift a little farther down the left-hand side of the page. 

"F, Nielsen wrote when he summed up the findings, is for fast. That's how users read your precious content." (p. 134-135)

And, finally, two more quotes from the last few pages of Carr's book. He briefly discusses AI and, for example, things like how when you search something on Google, it now automates responses for you and tries to guess what question you're wanting to ask (essentially writing code that allows computers to "think").

"What makes us most human is what is least computable about us--the connections between our mind and our body, the experiences that shape our memory and our thinking, our capacity for emotion and empathy. 

"The great danger we face as we become more intimately involved with our computers (as we experience more of our lives through the symbols flickering across our screens) is that we'll begin to sacrifice the very qualities that separate us from machines.

"The only way to avoid that fate is to have the self-awareness and the courage to refuse to delegate to computers the most human of our mental activities and pursuits, particularly 'tasks that demand wisdom.'" (p. 207-8)

"We shouldn't allow the glories of technology to blind our inner watchdog to the possibility that we've numbed an essential part of our self." (p. 212)

In a word: chilling.

P.S. Just in case you're interested in more, Bailie shared this post with me, which goes along perfectly with the things Carr discusses in his book.
If you made it all the way through, I'd love to hear your thoughts on any of this!
Here are a few questions to get you started:

-Do you read online text in the "F" pattern?
-Do you feel distracted when you're reading text online?
-Do you think we control our technology or does the technology control us?
-What do you think about Carr saying that we may have "numbed an essential part of our self" when we use the "glories of technology"?

30 comments:

  1. I would love to find a copy of this book. I still read the normal way but what I find breaks the flow for me is knowing I am going to need to scroll down so my eyes wander to make sure I am scrolling and then my concentration is broken.
    I honestly have a love hate relationship with technology where I know I have to use it and know about it to stay relevant but I often choose to do things in a way that most people would seem old fashioned or the hard way.
    I still prefer reading a book that is a physical copy, I still prefer listening to music via CD or record, I mail letters because I like all those things.

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    1. I'd never thought about the scrolling thing, but I agree. That does break my concentration. I think we're really similar in how we think about technology. I definitely have a love/hate relationship with it. I still love mailing letters and reading physical books, and I don't have a smart phone. But technology IS useful and I like it. But I do find myself reading in the "F" pattern he talks about (and that link you sent me talks about too!). I'm trying to be more conscious of it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this! :)

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  2. that book sounds super interesting! it is crazy how much something can condition our brains & change the way they function!

    i did read the whole post & read it like a book! i don't skim often because it hurts my eyes/brain - but i also read books very often so i am not quite out of the habit of reading! :) i do feel the distraction he talks about when looking at a blog or social media site!

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    1. See, I realized after reading this book that I DO the "F" pattern thing! Crazy. I usually skim to see if I will be interested in taking time to read the entire thing. I've found with blogging it's so easy to skim and then not concentrate on what I'm actually reading, so I always try to slow down and read through an entire post so I have something worthwhile to comment on. Thanks for reading through and commenting!

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  3. Technology intimidates me, and because it intimidates me, I've spent a lot of time avoiding it. I'm old school in a lot of ways (e.g. I still have a flip phone, I didn't own a computer until 2013). However, in the last year, I've challenged myself to become more technology savvy.

    Reading this post, I found myself thinking "I don't do that...oh wait, I guess I have started to do that." Scary.

    Example: I have always been a slow, linear, line-by-line reader, but after reading this, I realized that I have started doing the "F" pattern thing. In fact, I've been thinking of redesigning my blog and I feel like my sidebar needs to be moved from the right to the left. I couldn't figure out why, but now I realize my eyes have been trained to scan the page in that direction, and I need a sidebar on the left to make up the backbone of my "F" eye pattern.

    Here's the pathetic part: I haven't changed my sidebar because I can't figure out how. Technology completely controls me. Aah!

    Now I want to turn off my computer and read this book.

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  4. This is really interesting. My first reaction is always, "No, I don't do that." But I found myself doing the "F" reading pattern as I went through this post. That's one of the reasons that it's important to me to keep reading books - because I don't want to become so attuned to the computer mode of receiving information that I forget how to concentrate or read things thoroughly. And I've often thought that computer time, and video games, contribute to a shorter attention span.

    I still like reading blogs though, and I'm not going to try to change up the way I read them because of these revelations. There's a lot more to sift through, so "computer reading" is efficient, and then when there's an interesting or educational one, I usually slow down and read it a bit more thoroughly.

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    1. I don't think I'll change the way I read blogs or really anything online. I think the point I came away with is the importance of still carving out time for silent concentration on a single hobby. And it doesn't even need to be reading. Someone else mentioned in a comment that some people just don't LIKE reading, and I agree. Reading is not going to be everyone's favorite hobby. But we still need to find ways to practice concentration and not train ourselves to skim everything and take in nothing. Because it does affect long-term memory (something he goes into in the book). We are more forgetful and more prone to distraction, which I don't think bodes well for us if we aren't at least aware of the possibility.

      You also mentioned that there's "a lot more to sift through." This is something else he talks about in the book. When we type something into Google, it instantly gives us an entire page worth of the most relevant information. There's so much to choose from! That in itself is not a bad thing (good information is still good information), but it also encourages distraction and skimming because there's so much to get to that we jump from one to the next quickly, grabbing things here and there and assembling a collage of information that isn't always the most accurate.

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  5. I will say...it felt like SUCH a test to read this all the way through, and I won't tell you how many times I got distracted and picked up my phone or clicked over to something else. I always have to intentionally focus when I'm reading something online, for sure! I don't think it's a good thing, but I think it's good to be aware of.

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    1. I think a lot of people will have that problem with this post. You're not alone! But I appreciate you taking the time to read it and comment :)

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  6. I agree with you - I believe in some attempt at perfection when it comes to the written word. I notice so many typos in books these days.

    That's interesting that people read online text in an F pattern! For the most part, I still read online text like I'd read a book - unless I can tell from the first paragraph that it's just poorly written, and then I skim it for whatever facts are available. If it's oddly formatted, then I minimize the window so it's about the size of a book page (like the width of your post body) so it's easier to read.

    Some other thoughts I may or may not articulate properly. . .Reading/writing are skills people develop with varying degrees of success through schooling, unlike how everyone learns to speak well enough to be understood just by growing up surrounded by society. So the bookworm in me really hates how people are reading fewer books these days, but the truth is that reading novels for pleasure just isn't for everyone. The formatting of Internet pages though, even though they sometimes look like eyesores for a text lover like me, are great for enabling understanding with the least amount of effort.

    Also, both skills have had a huge impact on culture, human history, and probably on how our brains function - the data just isn't there to study anymore and people couldn't do it back then. Just imagine what it must have been like to suddenly be able to disseminate multiple copies of books, or what it was like for regular people when literacy became widespread. It's interesting that we can now observe and study changes almost in real time.

    So basically, it's neat, it's kind of chilling, probably making us super lazy. But then I amuse myself by thinking that someone from an oral tradition probably thinks people who have to write things down to remember them are pretty lazy. Loved this post.

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    1. Thanks SO much for your insightful comment! I loved reading it. One thing Carr talks about in the book goes along with something you mentioned in your second to last paragraph about what it was like when literacy became widespread. He actually talks about how when books were first being published in droves, someone took a stack of books to a local town, and they RAN HIM OUT OF TOWN because they thought he was some kind of devil. Because they thought having the ability to print books like that must be some kind of witchcraft. Isn't that crazy to think about?

      You bring up a really good point too about reading. Some people just don't like reading. It's like me not liking golf or something. People are reading fewer books, and I'm fine if that's just because they don't like reading. But it's dangerous if it's because we actually are losing the ability to concentrate, which Carr suggests we are. He also talks about the oral culture and how people used their memory to (duh) remember stuff, whereas we have the internet to look stuff up, so no one feels the need to remember. He talks about cabbies in London and how they knew all the streets and stuff, but now we rely on GPS to get us places, and studies of the brain actually show how certain areas of our brains are less active because of that.

      So interesting! I wish I could have a book club or something on this and get other opinions. I love talking about this!

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  7. I have so many thoughts on all of this, but yet.. I think it would be a lot easier to discuss in person, whiiiiich I feel is some kind of sign or something. (Way to be astute, Kate.) Because it's currently hard for me to put all of my thoughts together. (another sign?) I will throw out a few random points that are still circling around in my head.

    1. When reading things on the Internet, I'll admit to sometimes using the F pattern. I read the first bit to see if I'm interested, and then I skim the rest to make sure it's worth reading. In my opinion, I feel it goes back to the point of our lack of perfectionism with digital media. Any average Joe can put things on the Internet, and there is SO MUCH OUT THERE to read. After the whole F pattern bit, if I realize I AM interested? I go back and read the whole thing. I do this with articles and blogs alike. I feel like a lot of people are great at beginning and ending their writing, but the middle? It's a crap shoot.
    But to add to that point? I don't ENJOY reading things on a computer screen. I read books on my Kindle religiously, but it's a KINDLE (not a Kindle Fire or whatever.), so it still resembles a page of a book. I skim a lot on the Internet solely because I hate reading on the screen.

    2. I can totally understand the question of whether or not we are "concentrating intently". I've always been a reader, so I feel like concentrating for long periods of time is just second nature. But what I find interesting is that we, as a whole, seem to embrace the idea of the search ability of the Internet. It obviously makes our lives easier to find information, but as someone in the education field, I can say first hand that education has shifted completely from the way even when we were in school. I can remember using the computer to type papers or maybe look for ONE article to include in my research papers, but I relied on books. We were taught HOW to use those books. We were taught how to use indexes and table of contents and the like. While those things are MENTIONED now, they aren't valued anymore. We teach them how to judge the validity of websites. We teach them proper search terms. I mean, generally speaking, we librarians aren't even "librarians" anymore. The correct term is "library media specialist" OR just "media specialist".
    Teachers are discouraged to lecture to high schoolers. The big wigs making all the decisions for us want group work. They want differentiated instruction. They want little mini lessons all tied together to make one big lesson. They want us to use a variety of technology EACH DAY. Because that's just how kids think now. So many have been raised on the Internet, text messaging, and video games. They aren't accustomed to concentrating on one thing for extended periods of time. They are the kings and queens of multitasking. We are adapting the education world to meet those needs.
    As a whole, I think we have started to encourage the idea of skimming. We are indirectly teaching them how to QUICKLY glean whatever information they need. Because.. that's what society as a whole is beginning to value.

    I have a lot more thoughts, but I'm going to stop this gigantic comment here.

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    1. Isn't this so interesting? Jordan got so annoyed, because I kept wanting to read to him out of the book all the way to South Dakota.

      I definitely read in the F pattern exactly like you described, although it had never actually occurred to me before that I was doing that. There is so much information out there, and that's another thing he mentions: how Google is coded to give us the most relevant info, and so we're immediately overwhelmed by the number of options available to us whenever we Google anything. The same goes for blogs. There are so many great blogs out there, but I just can't read them all. At some point, you just have to say enough and accept that there are going to be things out there you "miss out on" because there's just not enough time.

      We've also (and he mentions this) gotten very good at almost instantly deciding whether or not a source/website/blog/whatever will be worth our time. I don't at all enjoy reading on the computer, and I often do what you do: skim to see if it's worth going back and reading it slower. I do this with a lot of blogs, actually. I'm so picky with writing style (blame my day job) that it's really hard to want to read certain people's writing. It's just...blah to me. I don't know. So I do end up skimming a lot to get the gist of it. I'll admit it. (Although I like to tell myself that NO ONE does that when they read my blog. Don't tell me otherwise.)

      And yes to your last point. You hit on exactly what he's saying in this book. It's not that the internet or technology are bad, but it's just that we are reprogramming how our brains process information. We ARE encouraging skimming to quickly glean information, and it's unfortunately to the detriment of our memory and comprehension.

      Also, on a semi related note, earlier this year I read the book Quiet about introverts. It talked about how multitasking is actually physically impossible. Our brains can ONLY focus on one thing at a time. What we mean by multitasking is, in fact, I forget the exact phrase, but basically just quick bursts of focus on various things at one time. That book was also super interesting. I kept meaning to do a book review/recap on the blog but never got around to it.

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  8. I left a big giant post and it's not showing up for some reason. :(
    Yes
    Yes
    Yes
    I think Carr is referring to how numb we've become because we're bombarded with information all the time. Or little things like typing "lol" when you are probably not actually laughing behind your computer screen.

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    1. So, I've had that happen to me before with the comment deleting itself. I've started copying my response BEFORE hitting "publish" just in case it deletes, and then I have it saved and can just paste and publish, and it always works the second time. I've discovered that it almost needs to refresh itself if you choose a drop-down option and so deletes whatever you publish the first time. Anyway, super annoying.

      But I appreciate your dedication to commenting twice!
      Also, I NEVER write lol unless I am actually laughing out loud. So if I ever write that, know I am LITERALLY laughing out loud. LLOL, as I like to call it :)

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    2. Then I appreciate your LOL's even more! I am guilty of using lol when not actually laughing. I'm laughing on the inside? It's weird though, because usually if the person were right in front of me, I would have actually laughed. Numb is a really good word for how we are when interacting with computers. Your post and this book are really making me think!

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  9. On the one hand, I think the author nailed it (!!) with his comments about our increasingly informal society. Fast food, clothing and information have made us far more carefree (good?) and sloppy (bad!) than generations before ours. And I think this informality is seeping into every aspect of our lives. For example, my husband and I make a real effort to sit at our dinner table every night and eat together, place mats and all, but it sounds almost stuffy to admit to it, no?

    On the other hand, I don't agree that the internet is totally responsible for changing the way the average person's brain consumes media. If you take away the internet entirely, how would that change your consumption? Put another way, what do you use the internet to replace? Blogs (like yours, although I'm not calling you out) replace magazines for me. And if you were intending something else, why does your page look the way it does? Consider the ratio of text box to header to ad space down the side and the rainbow of eye-catching colors on your site. When I read the internet for work, the sites I'm on look much more like JSTOR - online academic journals. Yes, it was hard to read through your post without getting distracted by what else is on your page, but those same distractions don't appear on JSTOR.

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    1. So, I don't know if this completely answers your question, but I want to share something that he writes about in the first few chapters that I didn't really touch on in my post because it was long enough already. You asked what we would use the internet to replace or how it changes our consumption of media. I thought Carr gave a really good example when he talked about the evolution of how we tell time. First, people used basically just the sun to tell time. They rose and went to bed with the sun, etc. As we got more sophisticated, we used hourglasses and eventually clocks. And then people wanted to actually have time available to them to look at ALL the time, so we wore watches.

      As technology advanced, the way we think about time changed. Instead of going about our days in a pattern dictated more by nature, we became obsessed with checking time, counting hours and minutes and seconds and detailing out our days. The WAY we think about time has changed with the evolution of our technological ability to tell time. That's what he's talking about here. It's not that the internet is responsible for the way we consume media. It's that our advancing technology is changing the way we think about the media we consume. Just like we "taught" (in a sense) ourselves to chart our days by the tick of a clock, we are teaching ourselves to be easily distracted and less focused as a result of the technology that is available to us. I don't know if that makes total sense, but it made a lot of sense to me when I read the book.

      As for blogs replacing magazines and having all the distractions like links and colors, you bring up an interesting point. If I really wanted people to just read my words only, I would probably remove all the distractions and just have text. I actually really like the minimalistic look of certain blogs I read. We can't really blame people for being distracted when we ourselves put distractions there for people to get distracted by. I am turned off by blogs with too much color and links and photos, so there's a balance, I think.

      My biggest takeaway for me personally is just that even if you're not reading (because like someone else mentioned in a comment, some people just don't like reading as a hobby), it's important to spend quality time doing a concentrated activity so we don't get out of the habit of being able to focus. That's when we start getting more prone to distraction, which, as Carr mentioned, is proven to have a negative impact on long-term memory and comprehension.

      Also, I totally know what JSTOR is. I use it for work too sometimes :)

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  10. I think it totally controls us. We can't remember something we look it up, even if right in the middle of something. I constantly find myself jumping from social media sites trying to catch up. It is never ending. I still read a good old hard book and ebooks so I haven't lost my ability to really read. It will always be my favorite thing to do.

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  11. Good timing on this post. I've been paying attention this week at work to see how I'm using my computer to move information around, and this post highlights a lot of how i feel so distracted and anxious when I have a lot of emails coming in. Since I'm supposed to be spending a fair amount of my time writing, I find it difficult to produce quality work when my email keeps chiming. I spend so much time deciding (and being tempted) to read it, that I lose focus on the work I'm writing.

    I'll have to pay attention to the "F" pattern this afternoon. It seems to make sense. Especially when he says we're reading more but not necessarily absorbing it.

    Glad you posted this. Lots to think about!!

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    1. So, he talks about emails in the book, actually, and how they are SO distracting. What I've started doing (not right now, obviously) is closing gmail completely if I want to concentrate on something. Because I feel compelled to read and respond to emails immediately, and it's a terrible waste of concentration.

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  12. I confess that I did read this post in the F pattern. So weird. I have no problem reading books thoroughly - I love reading (and real paper books, not e-readers). But wordy articles, posts, etc. on the computer monitor? I skim.

    Kevin and I were talking about the constant availability of information the other day. People don't discuss and debate the way they used to - and therefore don't listen as well either. Disagree on the singer of a song? Whip your phone out, Google it, and settle right and wrong in a matter of seconds. But did it really improve the quality of life to know, definitively, who sang the song? No. And it could have been a thoughtful dialogue, even on a silly topic like that, focusing on tones and voice and instrumental sounds.

    Someone...maybe the girl who writes over at The Art In Life blog...quoted her dad's reaction to the phrase, "There are no words." To paraphrase he basically said, "Shakespeare would have found the words." The words are there. But we don't read them or write them or speak them the way they did when there wasn't access to ALL THE WORDS AND THE THINGS online. At all times.

    Thanks for sharing this 'Amanda's Notes' recap! Very thought provoking comments!

    -Amy

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    1. I totally read in the F pattern online, so you're not alone :) I just thought it was so interesting when I read that, because I'd never actually thought about it before! I think that's also interesting what you said about discussing stuff. I've had that happen before when I was talking about something, and someone was like "well let me just look that up," and it totally interrupted the conversation, and I was like, "this isn't even necessary to know." So yeah, I completely agree.

      Thanks for the comment! And thanks for reading the post. I know it was long. It actually was much longer, but on my final edit I cut out a few of the paragraphs. You're welcome :)

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  13. This is all so interesting (and so informative). Isn't it crazy how technology has changed us, including reading online? I have never noticed the F pattern, but I'm sure I do this - I will have to be more aware now!!!

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  14. This is scary. I really do worry about technology/the internet making a negative impact on the way people think and communicate. I worry that the written word will become more casual, less permanent (as he mentions), and that people will begin to value more accessible information than a well-formed thought. I don't think I read in an F pattern, but I definitely feel distracted when I read anything online. Even reading blogs is taxing for me. If my bloglovin feed was delivered to me in a newspaper format every day, I would find it much more enjoyable (and I would read more of it). Now, isn't that ironic? Access to information is a wonderful thing. I really do think we will have to learn to manage it, though. We can't keep producing distracted generations who can't focus on one thing at a time! Can we?

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  15. I am definitely a skim reader most of the time (it actually took a lot of concentration for me to get through the above post, not going to lie). I've been a skim reader since I was young, I was a good reader and a fast one, but it's because I always would read but then skip over details that seemed boring. I'm sure the Internet has only made this skimming habit worse.

    Two points that you mentioned were really interesting to me:
    1. the first was how being online captures our attention more than anything else... as I read your post I was watching an episode of Shark Tank and realized that I no longer any idea of what was going on in the show because the internet had taken over my attention.
    2. That last part where he says we need to have the courage to refuse to delegate tasks to the internet that require wisdom... just out of curiosity, did he give any examples?

    Very interesting and thought provoking post. His book seems like it could be a little over my head but that could be because I'm really tired (or distracted). I might reevaluate in the morning and maybe I'll see if I can find it somewhere!

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    1. I don't have the book on me anymore, so I can't look up any specifics for you, but on your #2 about delegating tasks, he had a whole chapter on artificial intelligence. Basically, there was this guy who wrote one of the first codes for a computer that could talk back to you. He gave an example of a "conversation" this computer would have with someone, but really all it was doing was following a preprogrammed set of instructions for how to handle certain key words. (Example: The person would say: "I hate doing laundry." The computer would be programmed to reverse the person's phrase and respond with "Why do you hate doing laundry?") This gave people the impression that their computer was actually understanding what they were saying.

      Okay, so THEN he talked about how some people wanted to go further with that idea and have computers be, say, therapists instead of actual humans. Or, computers could be at hot line call centers instead of humans. People who "talked" with these computers started to think they were really friends and build relationships with them. And Carr said that the original guy who wrote this code was really disturbed by the idea that people could become attached to a computer. It's like that movie that came out earlier this year "Her" with Scarlett Johanssen (or however you spell it) and where she's the voice of the guy's phone, and he starts falling in love with her or whatever. I didn't watch it, but I think that was the premise.

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  16. this post reminds me of a class i took on techno-culture and learning in the digital age- a lot of the same premises about the need for faster bursts of information and a leniency on perfection (since you can constantly edit and revise). i'm not sure my need for fast bits of information is new though - i remember taking encyclopedias from the library and bouncing from topic to topic, old school.

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  17. Wow. All of this was just so interesting. The part I liked the most though and made me audibly go, Huh, was where you (and he) talked about the computers effect on writing and publishing. As a writer and editor myself, it's mind-boggling how often I find typos in digital books and blogs and even big-time magazines online. I can't understand why we don't take that extra five minutes to read through our work before pressing "publish." It was ingrained in me in college to read my work aloud before submitting it and I still do that with everything to this day. He doesn't say the word (at least in the passages you presented to us) but it has caused our society to become so so lazy.

    So, yeah, we are completely dependent on technology. Hell, when coworkers say they left their phone at home, the following sentence is: I feel so naked. That's because we are exposed without it. We are our true selves. We can't look anything up. It's only the knowledge in our heads, which we realize is so limited.

    And I think that could definitely relate to the "numbing of ourselves." We have all this information literally at our fingertips so we don't take the time to process information and retain it in our actual brains.

    Man, this is amazing. He is so dead on on so many things. I know that technology has helped so much: like spreading the word of social injustices and giving people who normally wouldn't have information, information. But I fear that in the long run this could eventually ruin our society. We won't interact anymore. We won't store information in our brain. The machines will control us.

    Well, now that I've gotten all conspiracy theory, I'm going to go roam the Internetz.

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  18. I'm pretty stubborn myself--and it's funny, some of the closest people in my life are those who refuse to learn to do anything technological: My grandmas have literally never even switched a computer on...my sisters read books all day long and go hiking in the rainforest instead of being on facebook...my mom (she emails, writes papers for work and classes, reads my blog, and that's it, unless one of my siblings plays a korean drama for her on the internet)...some of my best friends don't have facebook or use email which is IMMENSELY frustrating now that I live overseas, and writing letters doesn't really work either because they're boys and boys are totally okay with never communicating unless you are in the same room which is cool in a way because you can easily maintain friendships for years without doing anything at all...but it's also annoying because you might never hear that they got married last month.
    I love the internet for its communication aspect. That's by far what I love most about it. 2nd, streaming tv shows.
    Honestly, I don't like reading on the internet all that much, which is probably heresy for a blogger. I find most internet writing to be of poor quality--so much so that a well-written article startles me and pulls me in. There is comparatively not much out there that has the kind of sentences that truly pull me in and make me sigh in pure delight at the beauty of words. If we're being honest--lots of blog posts are sucky and boring. And "articles" that go viral are usually stupid, and not worth 1 minute of scanning. But I don't have my library anymore, I don't have an e-reader, and English books are not easily found, so if reading online is my only option, I'll do it.
    Writing online, however, that, I love. I LOVE communicating with people. I love that my family and friends don't forget about us or miss out on huge chunks of our lives because I'm able to write and communicate. I wish my family were better at communicating with me because I wonder what's going on in their lives, but most of them are the type that will tell you endless hilarious awesome stories--but only when you're there in person. Lack of those stories is probably the worst loss incurred when we moved overseas.

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