Thursday, June 10, 2010

Stop Reading: This'll Make You Stupider!

Brenda and Kord Campbell
Photo by Chang W. Lee

If Matt Richtel is correct, then you probably won't recall my blogpost of three days ago, in which I exhorted everyone to "Keep Reading: This'll Make You Smarter!" You won't remember because precisely the reverse is true -- the internet is making us stupider! Or "more stupid." I no longer know which form is correct.

Anyway, Mr. Richtel warns us, in "Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price" (New York Times, June 6, 2010), distraction is detraction:
Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.
You might think that you need merely switch the computer off and focus on a task for your thinking to work okay, but you'd think wrong, for the "fractured thinking and lack of focus persist . . . [in] your brain off computers." I guess that I was right in suspecting that the internet might "distract us from deeper, more continuously sustained thinking" in voicing skepticism toward the optimistic view that the internet is making us smarter.

Indeed, Mr. Richtel goes on to inform us that "information overload [not only] causes distraction," a finding "supported by more and more research," but even worse, research has "found that people interrupted by e-mail reported significantly increased stress . . . [and] [s]tress hormones have been shown to reduce short-term memory."

Hang onto that thought while you read the entire article about the Campbell family's internet disability . . . and try not to worry overmuch that reading online just might be interfering with your own ability to keep that thought in mind.

Now, what was that thought again?

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At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This isn't news to teachers. Children definitely have shorter attention spans than they did a few decades ago. Educators must accommodate by breaking up lessons into smaller chunks, having the kids move around, and using electronic tools like interactive whiteboards. These modifications work up to the point where kids have to sit quietly and read or write. Some kids just don't have the focused attention needed to do that, and it shows in their reading scores and sometimes in other subjects, too. When I was a kid, the only electronic distraction was the TV, and that got boring quickly with only three channels.

At 9:17 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

In my town, we were so isolated that could get only one channel, NBC, from Springfield, Missouri -- even the Little Rock station's waves didn't stretch down into our valley.

I therefore concentrated on reading on the sofa or going out and observing animals in the wild . . . both rather focused activities.

I once laid down in a field as still as possible, pretending to be dead, and managed to attract a vulture that wheeled down the updraft for a closer look, close enough for me to get alarmed and stand upright, which alarmed the bird in turn, and it flapped back up.

That concentrated stillness and brief moment of panic that I might really be dead remain vivid to this day.

Jeffery Hodges

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