I recently began reading The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I first saw him on The Colbert Report and was intrigued by his interview. I have only read the prologue, but already I am hooked.
Even when I was away from my computer, I yearned to check email, click links, do some Googling. I wanted to be connected. Just as Microsoft Word had changed me into a flesh-and-blood word processor, the Internet, I sensed, was turning me into something like a high-speed data-processing machine, human HAL.
I missed my old brain.Carr's story struck such a chord with me that I made it a mission to get my old brain back.
I used to sit and lose myself in 300 page novels. I've never really been good at getting work done in front of the TV or if there is music with words playing in the background. I get to work at 7:20 am every morning so that I can have an hour to myself uninterrupted in my room before the day starts. So why am I kidding myself that I'm doing my best work with TweetDeck running, my email open and a tab open for Facebook (not to mention countless other tabs and windows)?
These last few days I have done my best to only check my email on my phone if I feel the urge. This keeps me from getting sucked into the computer. I spent today catching up on my Newsweek magazines, helping my friend with some little tasks for her jewelry-making company and rather than take the train home I walked the 20 blocks. It felt wonderful. It's almost as if every minute I spend off the computer makes it that much easier to close the lid.
It's a weird revelation for someone who dedicates so much time to using technology for her own learning and spends so much time and energy learning new ways that technology can inspire and motivate students while allowing them to take control of their own learning.
Call me 'old school,' but I think that it is important that we teach students how to focus on one thing at a time. I think our students need to be aware of their own multitasking and they need to be taught how to take measures to balance the skimming and shallow activities that they do on the Internet with deeper, uninterrupted activities.
In my experience, when I spend hours multitasking on the computer or spend days at a time sitting at the computer I feel scatterbrained and unfocused. I find it hard to start tasks around the house or sit and read my Newsweek or whatever book I have on my Kindle at the time. Today I felt focused, refreshed and, well, alive.
I recently read a wonderful New York Times article entitled I Tweet Therefore I Am. In the article, the author describes a touching moment with her daughter which she has an urge to tweet out to her friends. She continues to eloquently describe how Twitter plays into our psyche and our self-image. Twitter has definitely changed the way I experience life. Small observations and experiences become tweets in my head almost unconsciously. For example, I am thinking of a tweet right now while I watch The Daily Show about how having Will Ferrell and Jon Stewart at the dinner table would be the best night of my life.
I am certain that the Internet is changing the way we think and experience our day to day lives. We need to be conscious of this and make sure that we don't mistake efficiency and the ability to absorb large amounts of information for careful reading and thoughtful reflection on what we are absorbing.
I am also certain that the Internet has been an invaluable resource for me, especially over the past year. The information and resources I have accumulated that help me be a better teacher, the relationships that I have fostered, the connections I have made, the dialogues and debates I have had are priceless. Granted, I have been forced to learn how to manage all of this information through various tools like Google Reader and Diigo. I have also been forced to learn how to manage my online relationships through tools like TweetDeck. The result? From time to time I have an information overload or a feeling that I can't keep up with all of the conversations flying by. I start to find myself clicking around from tab to tab or tweet to tweet mindlessly.
I miss my old brain.
photo courtesy of Dimi15 on Flickr