Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Our Universal ADD

These days more conversation in my writing classes turns up about how all of us are in a perpetual state of universal Attention Deficit Disorder, texting others while with a friend in a restaurant, reading and reply to e-mails on our Droids or BlackBerrys during a business meeting, and going to 140-character-only-including-spaces Twitter to receive our daily gospel of what’s hot. Everyone seems to lament such conduct but feels powerless to do anything about it, seduced by the facility, intuitiveness, and speed-of-light answers of technology. Read a 1,000-word article? Forget about it! Write a 250-word description? Later for that!

Nicholas Carr’s article in the July/August 2008 issue of the The Atlantic, “Is Google Making Us Stupid? What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains,” does a fine job of echoing our lament over the attention span of our more-malleable-than-we-think brains. An excellent writer and reader, Carr admits—as I do—that unlike when he used to relish getting caught up in an engrossing book, “Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do.”

What’s happened? The answer, asserts Carr, is in the behavior perfected from years of efficient Internet searching and surfing, which lead to skimming, drifting, and ultimately disengagement. The author imaginatively places his premise in a historical context that considers other machines which have affected our thought process over the centuries. His conclusion seems incontrovertible: “As we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

The 4,176-word article —yeah, that’s right—is definitely worth a complete read.

Books by Philip Vassallo

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