Feeling A Little ADD? Blame The Internet

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:

  1. Try and get some sleep every night – I average between 5-7 hours depending.
  2. Eat well, including lot’s of protein (your brain will thank you)
  3. Exercise – which for me includes walking each morning
  4. 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)
  5. 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.


  1. trudyvanbuskirk says:

    I read the book this past spring and reviewed it in my monthly newsletter. I’m a baby boomer (born in 1950) and therefore not “addicted” to twitter and facebook the way many younger people are. My takeaway from the book is how the advent of EVERY “technology” from writing, printing, and reading right up to the internet have subtly changed our brains. We can’t do what we did before but we can do new things. It’s fascinating reading.
    If you like that you’ll like many books in the area of neuromarketing where current brain research is married with marketing. Again … fascinating ideas 🙂

  2. KittyKilian says:

    I think you are talking about addiction to social media here rather than ‘add’.

    •  @KittyKilian hi Kitty – I’m definitely talking about ADD in this case. Definitely read the book and you’ll see what I mean.

      • KittyKilian says:

         @RobertDempsey Hi Robert. I don’t mean to go into a lengthy discussion, if only because it gets tiresome 😉 But ADD or ADHD don’t just come into existence because of being online too much. If anything, the computer is a great tool for people with ADetc because it keeps up with their speed. AD& are conditions caused by a different build of the brain. So – if anyone who is not up to date with current ad& research would first read up that would save everyone a ton of work. Really. No use replacing myths by new myths.

        •  @KittyKilian I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was younger so I’m quite familiar with actual ADHD. I also know a number of adults that have been diagnosed. So let me be a bit more specific.
          I am not inferring here that the Internet can actually cause ADD or ADHD to suddenly come upon someone. I’m not a physician nor am I a brain scientist, so it would be foolish of me to make such statements.
          I did not mean “ADD” literally. From your response it appears that I was not clear enough on that point, though I did not mean to infer it either.

        • KittyKilian says:

           @RobertDempsey All right. I did not think you were at first, but from your reply I thought you did. Sorry.

  3. Well said Robert! I’m a nut about neuroscience and want to make sure that I exposing my brain to the right experiences and maximize the flow of the  right neurotransmitters. That’s a great book – motivated me to read other books by Nicholas Carr. Can’t disagree with the remedy you propose, but would add some type of meditation or mindfulness practice.

    •  @Rileyhar great to hear from you Riley! I hope things with you are going very well.
      I agree with your addition about meditation or mindfulness practice. I’m a practitioner of meditation myself and it helps immensely.

  4. Great post Robert! I agree with you — it’s best to make a conscious effort to avoid information overload. I try to read for at least 45 minutes a day. I also try to take daily walks after work or after dinner. It’s important for me to try and take breaks in the middle of work, too — I just need to give my eyes a break! Sometimes the strain is both mental and physical. Over time, the urge to constantly check my phone, Facebook Twitter, email, etc., dies down. I find myself much more in the moment and processing the world around me, rather than just information coming in over the internet.

    •  @annedreshfield ah exercise – a great way to stay healthy physically and mentally. Great add Anne! And I hear you on the computer thing – there’s something about staring at a screen for a long time that just tires me out.

  5. Loved this article. Absolutely resonated with me. Thanks for the advice also. I reposted on my Facebook page!

  6. I still read books and love them. Some of my best days are those that start with me rising early enough to get some reading time in. I wouldnt diagnose myself with ADD but I get what you are saying entirely. Even when I shut the tab on Hootsuite, I am still wondering what is going on – did someone mention me that I need to reply to? Did someone comment and I need to interject? I like the idea of scheduling time and am presently challenging myself with a huge writing project that is forcing me to write for at least 1 hour per day. sometimes that hour doesnt happen all at once because I get distracted, someone calls, someone texts, a more enticing offer comes along, etc. I need to work on that and more importantly, I need to get better at communicating that things are important to me to the people in my life. Sometimes I have support and other times I get an eyeroll which makes it very difficult to concentrate and get whatever needs doing done.

    •  @C_Pappas ah the eyeroll! I’ve found that if you put structure in place around yourself and have people stick to it, it works quite well. Not always so much with a boss, but just because things are always on nowadays doesn’t mean the boundaries have been broken down. In fact, boundaries are more important today than ever.

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