Tag Archives: reading

Shallower thinking? Multi-tasking or unable to focus?

8 Jul

I have been reading a few articles lately in newspapers and on blogs which examine the question ‘Is the Information Age making us dumber?’ Information overload is certainly not a new phenomenon. Even in the 1980s I remember watching a documentary in which Barry Jones warned that the sheer amount of information that people had to take in was becoming unmanageable, and that we needed to become more selective.
I don’t think that even Barry Jones, with his huge intellect, could have imagined the changes in technology and the explosion of information sources which have occurred in the last 20 years.
We hear much about Gen Y’s ability to multitask – facebooking, texting on the phone, listening to music, tweeting, watching youtube and conducting an online conversation all at the same time. I wonder, though, whether the ability to focus on a task is being eroded. I’m not even talking so much about ‘deep thinking’ in an academic sense – though that may be a problem – but even reading a book and being able to immerse oneself in the action on the page – or indeed on the virtual page of an e-reader. I know that my attention span is much shorter for reading newspaper articles. There is just so much to take in all the time, that I flit from article to article and page to page, scanning headlines and pictures. When I do find something that I know I should read, I tear it out of the paper and keep it in a pile which steadily gets bigger and bigger….
I’m finding it more difficult to concentrate on a task for any length of time, because there is so much to do, but also so many distractions. The hyperlinks in web pages often take me on a wonderful journey of discovery (last week I spent more than an hour reading comments on a blog about the different methods that people used to keep squirrels out of bird feeders in North America). It is easy to be diverted from the original aim of the research. The sheer immediacy and often the humour in the writing are very enticing. ‘Happening upon’ information occurs, rather than ‘researching in a considered way’.
Hmmm…. I’m off now to research this topic in a considered way.