I still have an attention span–hey! A new iPad!

Caught this Publishers Weekly post thanks to fellow author Lori Lake, via Sisters in Crime. It’s a lament about our dwindling attention spans. Click here.

Bill Henderson, one of the co-authors of the book Book Love, which celebrates the printed book, notes that our techie-oriented society is literally changing the structure of our brains:

The e-experts said that in the future all information and literature would be available on the device of the moment (sure to be replaced by the device of the next moment). You may never have to leave the comfort of home or bed. The latest bestseller—indeed, millions of out-of-print books (you didn’t know you needed that many)—could be had at the click of a button. This was billed as an improvement.

Lots of people are making lots of money telling us this is for our own good. Tweeting away, we never stop to think. In fact, we may be losing the ability to think.

In The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains (Norton, 2010), Nicholas Carr notes that after years of digital addiction, his friends can’t read in depth anymore. Their very brains are changing, physically. They are becoming “chronic scatterbrains… even a blog post of more than three or four paragraphs is too much to absorb… .Because our brains can no longer think beyond a tweet, we can’t write well. And we can’t read well either. The idea of reading—let alone writing—War and Peace, Bleak House, or Absalom, Absalom! is fading into an impossible dream.


He also notes that you’re probably not saving many trees with your ebook reader. Why not? Well, click the link and find out. It’s not saving resources. In fact, it’s adding lots of toxicity to the environment.

Just some food for thought.

Happy actual paper book reading!

3 thoughts on “I still have an attention span–hey! A new iPad!

  1. There are also studies showing that kids today are better at multi-tasking because of the Internet and wireless devices. I think the jury is still out on whether the Internet is really bad for our brains or not

    • Ah, but see these studies: http://www.suite101.com/content/attention-spans-decreasing-with-too-much-technology-a258607
      That one’s about a correlation between decreased attention spans in elementary school kids because of TV and video games.

      And historically, attention spans have drastically decreased: http://www.help4teachers.com/ras.htm

      This recent study on the inefficiency of multitasking: http://www.prismdecision.com/multitasking-illusion

      And this one, which found that the more media someone uses, the worse they were at using any media: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/08/24/study-people-who-multitas_n_267774.html

      Here are some of the things that study found:

      For example, ability to ignore irrelevant information was tested by showing them a group of red and blue rectangles, blanking them out, and then showing them again and asking if any of the red ones had moved. The test required ignoring the blue rectangles. The researchers thought people who do a lot of multitasking would be better at it.

      “But they’re not. They’re worse. They’re much worse,” said Nass. The high media multitaskers couldn’t ignore the blue rectangles. “They couldn’t ignore stuff that doesn’t matter. They love stuff that doesn’t matter,” he said. Perhaps the multitaskers can take in the information and organize it better? Nope. “They are worse at that, too,” Nass said. “So then we thought, OK, maybe they have bigger memories. They don’t. They were equal” with the low multitaskers, he added. Finally, they tested ability to switch from one task to another by classifying a letter as a vowel or consonant, or a number as even or odd. The high multitaskers took longer to make the switch from one task to the other. This particularly surprised the researchers, considering the need to switch from one thing to another in multitasking. “They couldn’t help thinking about the task they weren’t doing,” lead author Eyal Ophir said. “The high multitaskers are always drawing from all the information in front of them. They can’t keep things separate in their minds.”

      I taught college-level students for 2 years, and though many were versed in various media, they were terrible at focusing on relevant information. Scattered thinking, scattered writing, and an average attention span of maybe 5 minutes at a shot, if I was lucky. And I incorporated all kinds of things in my classes (history and anthropology), including re-enactments, dressing in costume, mock legislative debates, movies, PowerPoints, crazy contests like “name the best presidential hair” and I was frankly amazed at how little these students retained, though they were constantly engaged with technology. Most had never read a complete book because, they said, “it took too long.” So though I don’t think we can generalize across generations, it is a troubling trend, this complete immersion in technology to the exclusion of real-world experiences. I have numerous colleagues who teach at universities and colleges, and they all complain of the same thing. Tech-savvy students who don’t seem to be able to think deeply, or who don’t stay focused on tasks, or who want quick, easy solutions and get frustrated when they’re not in that corner office by noon of their first day of the job.

      Here: http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2007/11/08/60minutes/main3475200.shtml

      Again, not all are like that. But when you see people yakking on their cell phones or texting their friends while hiking somewhere, I think “addiction.” It’s not healthy to be completely plugged in all the time like that. You lose perspective and the ability to effectively interact with people in the real world. Again, just observations, but it seems that the more recent studies are showing that just because you do multitask doesn’t mean you’re able to do it effectively. And therein lies a problem. These kids — and, I think, anyone who “multitasks” — think they’re actually engaged in all the tasks they’re doing, when they’re actually not being effective at any. [shrug]

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