When you’re finished reading this post, please be sure to leave a comment, because I want to know what you think about his important topic.
I just finished reading “The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains” by Nicholas Carr. The basic premise of the book is that, due to the continuous flood of information coming at us, we are, generally speaking, losing our ability to maintain focus for longer periods of time. But it’s not all bad news. In exchange for our inability to focus for long periods, we gain the ability to process smaller bits of information faster, and to identify patterns in that data.
Now, if your job is to sit in front of a computer screen all day and interact with people on Twitter or Facebook, you’re in luck. However if you need to be able to see the big picture, think strategically, or perform a task that requires you to maintain focus, you’re S-O-L, unless you do a few things…
I’m not blowing smoke here my friend. If you want to read about all the science behind this, pick up a copy of The Shallows, because all the evidence is there. Anecdotally I can say that, before I went to Thailand a year-and-a-half ago, I was scattered. I would constantly check email, Twitter, Facebook, instant messenger, website stats, RSS feeds and more. Everything was sending me messages every second.
It was crazy.
At the time I didn’t read many books. I found myself skimming over a lot of material and remembering very little. Life, it seemed, occurred in little snippets. And it wasn’t just online. Every news channel I would watch not only had the main stories, they had tickers all over the screen with information about other stories.
Enter information overload.
Scientifically speaking, and check the book for these facts, as humans we’re only able to hold so much in our working memory. Working memory is what we’re focused on at any given point in time. For me right now, typing this post is taking my full attention – it’s my current reality. Once I focus on something else, what I was writing about will go out of my mind and I’ll move on to the next thing.
How much will I remember? Most likely, very little.
According to the research the Nicholas Carr did for the book, it takes time for information to go from working memory, to short-term memory, to long-term memory. It’s biology too. If you aren’t getting your sleep or eating right, it becomes harder to remember, because your body literally can’t perform the functions it needs to do so.
Science is powerful. But I digress.
So here’s the thing – we’ve all been trained, after using Google, Twitter, Facebook, and other sites – for years, to take in little snippets of information. Over that time, our brains re-wire themselves to become more efficient at the task of processing smaller info chunks. But nothing is without a cost. To be able to process little info chunks better we lessen our ability to focus for long periods and to remember for longer periods.
That’s one hell of a quid-pro-quo if you ask me!
So what to do…
I’m not going to sit here and tell you to unplug from the Internet. However I am going to advise you to train your brain to be able to focus. How do you do that? Here’s what I do:
- Try and get some sleep every night – I average between 5-7 hours depending.
- Eat well, including lot’s of protein (your brain will thank you)
- Exercise – which for me includes walking each morning
- Read books – and not just for 15 minute stints. I have an hour scheduled each day for reading, and I have a continuous reading list on my Kindle. Also when you read, step away from all other electronic devices (if you use a Kindle)
- Schedule your day like a maniac, and don’t waiver. I have days when I do all my calls, and no calls on the other days.
Over time, your Internet ADD will get better.
Now let’s hear from you on this important topic…
Are you feeling ADD? Do you find it harder to sit down and read a book? Have you stopped reading books?
Let us know in the comments because inquiring minds want to know.