Sunday, August 17, 2008

down time... or is Google making me Stoopid?

I've been getting concerned lately.
I used to read. A lot. When I was pregnant with my son and had a cake job as a live-in apartment manager I sometimes used to consume several books a day. Even just a few years ago I was still consuming ten or more books a month. Now, I feel like I am trickling in a book here or a book there, and struggling to 'get into' them the way I used to. When I read this fascinating article I realized the author had a point:
"I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. 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. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle... what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski".


That sounds so familiar.
And it is not just reading. It seems a lot of things that used to be pivotal to my life are suffering, I used to write a lot; compulsive journaling, playing around with fictional characters and story lines, reviews and letters and thoughts and ponderings and observations... Not so much anymore. My journal is sadly neglected, I haven't touched any of my fiction in months, and when I look at the past couple months worth of blog entries they are mostly just brief humorous quips (appropriated from other sources) and pictures.


On top of reading and writing, I have not worked in my studio in.... almost a year? could that be right? Has it been that long? Previously an obsessive sketchbooker (as opposed to a scrapbooker) it so something that I just no longer do. And it's loss is painful. As sort of a replacement I have been taking pictures, but it's not the same; it doesn't satisfy the same need for expression that is still underlying and gnawing away.


Meanwhile my time on the internet has increased. A lot. Yet it feels like my internet 'productivity' has decreased as measured by meaningful contact with friends and exposure to ideas and information. I'm not sure how the math works out, I haven't sat down and analyzed my internet time, but perhaps I should. Flickr, Goodreads, email, chat, Blog Reader... and for all my attempts at getting all my information organized into one place I still just find myself... scattered and spinning my wheels.

And how embarrassing to write about this ON MY BLOG. (So, G, sign off already and go read a book!)

Maybe it is just an adjustment period (been lots of upheaval lately), maybe I just need to find a balance, get better at time management, maybe this has just been a necessary down time, and I'm ready to 'get up' again, maybe I have an addiction that I need to address. Or maybe Google has made me stoopid.

So... does anyone have any thoughts on the subject? ever gone though something similar? I am soliciting advice here, so feel free.



17 comments:

jana said...

Today I spent the afternoon in the library. I had a short list of books that I wanted to get and then I just walked the shelves grabbing books until my arms were full.

Then I found myself a comfy chair and started reading. Sat there for an hour or so (until the library was closing).

It felt so good to be _reading_ something as weighty and indulgent as a "real book" and to see dozens of other people around me doing the same.

So my advice--spend some time just hanging out at the library. The reading will happen. :)

Elizabeth-W said...

Sorry...I had to power browse that article. It was way too long for me. ;)

I know I am reading just as much as before blogging, etc. And I am writing much more. But I am ashamed of how infrequently I add things to my goodreads list because I know if I'd had it 4 years ago (before blogging) there would have been much more frequent entries.
I think my attention lags because, like the Atlantic article, it's too long. Before, if I were going to read it, I'd be sitting more comfortably than how I sit at my monitor. Maybe if I had a laptop so I could sit on the comfy couch, I'd read more in depth? When I'm at my computer I feel like I'm working and have to be quick about it.

D'Arcy said...

YES!!!! And it scares the bejesus out of me! I am reading this supposedly AMAZING book recommended by smart people (who consider me one of them, and I didn't want to have to tell them otherwise) but I CAN NOT get into it. I settle down everyday to read the darn thing and after what seems like HOURS in this story I don't get I see that I have ONLY read TEN pages. TEN!

TEN!

I am a literature teacher for crying out loud. Reading is supposedly my greatest passion!

I secretly haven't finished that last two books that my book club has done (but I GOOGLED them so I had LOTS of FAKE smart things to say about them an no one was any the wiser) The next book club is in two weeks, everyone is finished already, I don't even know where the copy I bought went!


Ugh.


I hear ya. I have no advice. Google is making me shifty and shady. It's my own fault, I don't blame google's power, I blame my lack of control on governing that power in my life.


By the way, it seems you always have so much reading done on goodreads.

adam said...

My internet time was getting out of control a few weeks ago, and through some intense marital discussions, my wife and I decided that I would limit it all to 10 hours a week, including emails, etc. It really helps me focus on what I want to do online, but it doesn't solve the "chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation" problem. Even some blog entries are too long for me now...

Another thing that helped me was Cormac McCarthy, specifically, "The Road." Have you read it?

Kalola said...

Maybe this is what's happening to you (I definitely have "soft addictions"):

"Soft Addictions" are those seemingly harmless habits like over-shopping, overeating, watching too much TV, endlessly surfing the internet, procrastinating—that actually keep us from the life we want. They cost us money, rob us of time, numb us from our feelings, mute our consciousness, and drain our energy. And we all have them."
— Judith Wright, author of The Soft Addiction Solution

Numismatist Facts said...

This was a timely post for me. In the last few days I have been asking myself the same questions.

Soft addiction? That description sounds very much like the author was writing about me. Now I just have to decide what to do about it.

Oh, but I do enjoy reading my favorite blogs. I believe some kind of time-management like Adam uses is in my near future.

G said...

Jana, that sounds WONDERFUL! I was actually at the library today... for a full 5 minutes, sadly that is what a typical trip to the library is right now; run in return books, pick up my books on hold, run out.
to actually indulge in the bookish atmosphere would be just... wonderful!

elizabeth-W; yep, it was acquiring a lap top and wireless internet that facilitated this predicament! this wasn't an issue 4 yrs ago when we had an ancient desktop and dial-up internet.

d'arcy: you crack me up! thank you, I needed a good laugh!
(btw... a lot of my goodreads entries are retrospective reviews, books I read years ago. that's how I 'padded' my account. Now I am faced with having to work through my "to read" list and I worry.)

adam, yep, my internet use has sparked a few of those 'marital discussions'. it's one of the reasons I have realized just how much time I spend online! (and YES, I read The Road! very gripping)

Kalola, and Numismatist Facts... EXACTLY! a 'soft addiction' that is exactly what I fear I have, and what I am trying to figure out how to control. Like adam, I am trying to think of the best ways to limit myself, but yet still be able to make the rounds to the blogs I like to hit, keep the contact with my internet friends, etc...

thanks, all, for your kind words and advice!

JohnR said...

I'm so glad you blogged this! I take a more positive view than Carr does in his controversial article (Bloggers were in an uproar! Then they blogged angrily about it!), but then again I may just want to justify my addiction. (Full disclosure: I get paid to do web stuff.) I've been wanting to blog about it, but I've been too busy skimming RSS feeds.

I disagree with Carr's assertion that the web is eroding our ability to concentrate. I believe that we that we read and write more than ever before. Have you tried to print out some of those lengthier blog posts? I can tell you that I did not read eight-page critiques of patriarchy (and then thoughtful responses) for fun before I started following feminist blogs.

I recently read Michael Chabon's award-winning and carefully crafted Yiddish Policeman's Union. (Jana complained about 80 pages into the book: "When does something happen?") I savored the entire story like a gourmet meal, enjoying his mastery of the language, the detail he put into his world and his quirky characters.

And I fell behind on all of my blogs and feeds.

I think the key difference between internet-based media and traditional media is that the former creates a sense of urgency, while providing little sense that it is valuable. Books have perceived value--they've been around for a long time, you can heft them and exchange real cash for them. And we all would rather see our byline printed in ink than in ephemeral bits of light.

Anyhow, I feel the same need to find some kind of balance, but I value both the internet and the traditional media, for reading and creation. Thanks for posting on this--it's prompted me to reexamine some of my reading/writing priorities.

JohnR said...

Look! I just wrote a frickin' book! Take that, Carr! :P

Ellen said...

I am the same way! I used to be able to sit down and read for hours, but I think I've lost the skill.
In my case I think it's because I'm in college and I have to do so. much. effing. reading that I don't want to. After finishing my last semester of the school year, picking up a book to read (or even blogs and articles) was the last thing I wanted to do, even if I was bored out of my mind.
Relocating myself to read and write has helped me. I like places like starbucks, or any coffee shop for that matter. I guess the change of scenery and watching people helps me to not get bored with reading and writing. I guess you can say that getting distracted helps me focus?

G said...

HAHAHAHAHA! Way to go, JohnR! that should show him! Actually, I found it utterly ironic- I started reading the article from the actual magazine (at the library- wink wink, jana), and was quite amused to find that I could GOOGLE it and find it online as well. :)

Really, seriously, I don't think that Google is making me stupid. The internet USED to be a significant research and reading resource for me and I USED to read those long posts on feminism and patriarchy etc (plus throughly read all 300+ comments and any proffered links)...

but currently, I don't.
And I am not entirely sure why; I am skimming and distracted and spending lots of time getting nowhere and I really hope I get over it soon!!!

djinn said...

OK, I'm convinced, I'm hooked. You must read like me. Several books a day? Are you a "Utah Mormon?" I bet we're related--that light-speed reading speed is, as far as I can see, an inherited trait (recessive) and so requires two parents (quite possibly non-expressed) with the potential. Hello, sis!

In my quite lucidrously extended birth family, as far as I can see, other than my children, only me and my Uncle have it. I think one of the genes came from John Milner, a convert from England in around 1860. His diary is painful to read, maybe more on that later. Anyhoo--seriously, welcome to the family, confused, muddled, and bewildered as it may be. On my ex-husband's side, it seems to descend from the Farnsworths. Any familiar names?

PS. my ability to read at light speed has pretty much saved me from the poorhouse. Not a bad skill to have.

djinn said...

OK, I'm convinced, I'm hooked. You must read like me. Several books a day? Are you a "Utah Mormon?" I bet we're related--that light-speed reading speed is, as far as I can see, an inherited trait (recessive) and so requires two parents (quite possibly non-expressed) with the potential. Hello, sis!

In my quite lucidrously extended birth family, as far as I can see, other than my children, only me and my Uncle have it. I think one of the genes came from John Milner, a convert from England in around 1860. His diary is painful to read, maybe more on that later. Anyhoo--seriously, welcome to the family, confused, muddled, and bewildered as it may be. On my ex-husband's side, it seems to descend from the Farnsworths. Any familiar names?

PS. my ability to read at light speed has pretty much saved me from the poorhouse. Not a bad skill to have.

djinn said...

Sorry about the double posts. For D'arcy? In spite of whatever reviews some book got, if you don't like it, don't read it. Just because they like it doesn't mean you have to. I think you shouldn't read anything into your lack of concentration, other than a bad plot line. Or, perhaps, you're reading the book at the wrong time of your life. Pick up something else!

djinn said...

Djinn, continuing to be cranky, but perhaps these posts are so far in the past that no one will notice. I don't buy the "soft addictions" thingie. When I was younger, I'd go to sleep with an encyclopedia volume in bed (was I fun at parties! Let me tell you about cnidaria! Love those unvoiced consonants. The internet is like the Encyclopedia Brittanica without the bruises in the morning (from the books poking into you in your sleep.)

G said...

hahaha! djinn, I love you!
actually, I don't think I'm a quick read as much as I am able to ignore everything else that I should be doing (including sleep) in order to burn through a book.

it would be so much better if I could do it faster, and thus have to ignore other important things less. :)

Boquinha said...

I soooo hear you on this. I like Jana's idea. I read blogs LIKE CRAZY. I don't dare sign up on Facebook, because I worry about the time suckage.