Forced Focus

A quote that stood out for me in Carr came in the beginning of The Shallows when he stated, “…media aren’t just channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation” (6). Prior to reading this book I never thought about, or considered, the fact that technology as a medium such as the internet, may in fact be the cause for the way I think today. Carr notices that before the Net became such a staple in his life his concentration on paper and reading in general was a lot greater. It made me begin to wonder, as someone who grew up with technology at the tip of my fingers for the majority of my life, has it effected my focus too? I began to think about when I was younger and if my ability to concentrate for long periods of time was stronger than it is now. But as I think about it, it’s harder to draw up answers. I can’t say that this has affected me in the same way as Carr. I wonder, do I lose concentration and check my phone now simply because I have the freedom to do so whereas the younger version of me did not? Do I only lose focus when it is a subject that doesn’t interest me? By growing up in the world of technology I realized it’s harder to decipher the effect it has had on my life, my brain, and my way of thinking but the idea is intriguing and something I will not be able to avoid thinking about from now on when using the internet as opposed to a book.

This article discusses a study by a neurology professor, Adam Gazzaley, who agrees that technology changes our ability for cognitive thinking. Our cognitive abilities coincide with our ability to focus, accomplish, and complete tasks. However, the article goes on to talk about multi-tasking and how we need to limit our distractions. I found it interesting that it doesn’t expand down the same path as Carr, most articles claim we need less distractions to concentrate better. To me, that just seems to be common knowledge since you cannot focus on one thing while fidgeting with multiple other tasks. The article then speaks about why we procrastinate and the thought is similar to Carr’s; we would rather enjoy a little snippet of information, or a fun tweets/posts rather than sift through an entire piece. Our bodies have grown used to processing information quickly and concisely by contacting so much stimuli at once that our brain finds it more difficult to concentrate on specific, longer writings. The article ends with saying we need to find a balance between our use of technology, but Carr has opened my mind to a deeper possibility- that our entire way of thinking has changed and the internet is the cause.

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Author: Sara Reuschling

I am an English major with a minor in Sociology at the University of Delaware. The aim of this account is to learn as much as possible about the ever-growing changes in the world with an open mind and connect the information to my life experiences, especially regarding technology and digital rhetoric.

6 thoughts on “Forced Focus”

  1. A thoughtful response to Carr, Sara! Your last phrase points to my main reservation about his argument, though. Carr is definitely on to something about how we seem to be working—reading, writing, researching—differently these days. But do those changes really add up to a shift in “our entire way of thinking”, and is the internet “the” cause or just a cause? In other words, I wonder if Carr’s argument isn’t a little hyperbolic. ~Joe

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  2. The distraction idea is fascinating. When younger, the iPhone wasn’t readily available as a distraction. But didn’t we just zone out/doodle/find some other distraction when we were bored with a lesson? The idea that technology is a distractor is false for me: it has simply replaced more natural means of distraction. BUT I think that those other means of distraction were inherently more valuable than technology based distraction: when I daydream or get lost in imagination: that is MUCH more rewarding and fulfilling then sifting through a few pieces of Facebook or Twitter that I will forget in an instant. There is no creative process in checking my phone. There IS a creative process in doodling on my desk or staring into the infinite depth of the ceiling. EXCELLENT POST. Helped me to have a life-changing revelation here!
    Thanks!

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  3. I understand exactly where you’re coming from when you say it’s difficult to evaluate the extent to which technology has affected your life because it’s something you’ve grown up with. Given that we, as millennials, have almost always known the constant influence of cellphones and the Internet we have little to no pre-technology experiences of which to compare our way of thinking. To venture a guess, however, I personally believe that our attention spans would have the potential to be much stronger and long-lasting were we not exposed to the option of multi-tasking with any and every form of technology at any given moment. Of course there have always been natural distractions and dozens of other reasons to lose focus that don’t involve Twitter or Instagram, but it’s hard to ignore the thought that we would be much more adept at concentrating on one thing for a prolonged period of time were it not for the seemingly innumerable technological distractions of the 21st century.

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  4. I really liked the quote you chose and I think your whole response is very interesting. I also found myself while reading Carr wondering if my attention span has been shortened by the internet. I really liked how you included your own narrative into your response alongside what Carr had to say about the issue. I really like how you ended the response, and I also think the internet has changed the way we think.

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  5. Looking at the responses, I agree that technology isn’t the only reason for shaping our brain but a piece of it. And I also wonder if it is just a replacement for other ways of distracting yourself, such a doodling. I think it is a much more complex process than what Carr suggests and also situational based on the person, what they’re doing, etc.

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