In Defense of Distraction
- Sam Anderson
Above is a link to an article that my lovely friend Daniela posted on facebook. Here is a quote from it:
Herbert A. Simon wrote maybe the most concise possible description of our modern struggle: “What information consumes is rather obvious: It consumes the attention of its recipients. Hence a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention, and a need to allocate that attention efficiently among the overabundance of information sources that might consume it."
Now, the article is pretty interesting reading in my opinion. It's not something new, but I really liked the way he brought a few ideas together to give a nice overview of the issue. (I actually finished it amid watching an episode of Medium on TV and simultaneously having approximately 15 firefox tabs and 3 email drafts open!) It does lack a bit of cohesion in its thesis as some of the commentators have pointed out. He spends the majority of the article wondering if now that we're a super-connected, internet-bound, ADD civilization with all the information ever known at our fingertips that we might be losing something. Say, the free time to create masterpieces that is otherwise taken up reading silly articles on the internet. The problem is at the end instead of leaving it a bit doom and gloom he kind of says,"no if Lennon and Einstein (his examples of pinnacle genius) were around today they would find new ways to synthesize this abundance of information and still be productive." But, if this is true, who are our generation's Lennon and Einstein?
I frequently ponder this question. Not who our generation's artistic and scientific geniuses are, but if we'd be making more breakthroughs, making more art, more novels, poetry if we weren't so connected to possibly time-wasting activities. Maybe this is because I spend a great portion of my day just reading online. Seriously, anything I can get my hands on. I can spend 8 hours reading articles, watching videos, etc. But they do tend to have some kind of focus (unlike this author's ADD reference to the Boston Molasses Tragedy, or whatever.)
I think it's partly a social issue, partly neurobiological (as the author points out, the internet is addictive). One thing this article left me with is the great want to go back and study, which I always have, but now with another concept to think about. Another thing is the desire to start a book club. I don't think there's much inherently wrong with the way some people currently use the internet/magazines/tv to get quick sound bits of information, but I think what's missing is the real sense of satisfaction that comes from finishing, living through a great masterpiece.
As my Shakespearean teaching Literature Professor Mr. Buckingham, (seriously read his bio, it says uber-English things like "He read English at Cambridge, and his graduate school was Harvard) used to say in his English accent and through his jovial beard while we read King Lear (ALL OF IT) and watched the 4 hour version of it in London at the Royal Shakespeare Company, "You will come out of it bedraggled, tired, dirty, like you have lived it yourself." (Just make sure to check your eyes haven't been gouged out as well.) He was speaking of both reading the play and watching it/living through it on stage.
That is how I feel about both writing and reading in general; if I don't feel absolutely wasted at the end of it, either I haven't done my job in unraveling the words, or putting it down, or I'm not reading something that has impacted me in the way that it could have, had it been written better. This is the reason I write so infrequently. Perhaps a reason why I should try to write more often?
Another one of my favorite and most influential literature professors once said to us as he was ripping apart our papers and making otherwise A students cry (I kid not) (Hello Mr. Minette!) : writing should feel as if you are squeezing blood out of your forehead. If you're not utterly tormented doing it, you simply aren't trying hard enough.
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