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How the Internet makes us stupid


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I found this article in the Melbourne Age newspaper, food for thought.

The stimulation of the digital age is changing the make-up of our brains, with potentially disastrous results, writes Nicholas Carr.

ALTHOUGH the worldwide web has been around for just 20 years, it is hard to imagine life without it. It has given us instant access to vast amounts of information, and we're able to stay in touch with friends and colleagues more or less continuously.

But our dependence on the internet has a dark side. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the net, with its constant distractions and interruptions, is turning us into scattered and superficial thinkers.

It occurs to me that there may be a link (pun not intended) here to why some people find it more difficult to read on screen than others. Could it be related to it being distracted by the technology?

Anyway it is something to think about, and evidently best done when you aren't browsing. :hehe::whistle:

I think part of the answer is train yourself to not be distracted from actually making the effort to understand what you are reading, and that includes tempting links as well as those pesky advertisements. Certainly I notice many people in administrative and managerial positions paying only very light attention in off-line conversations, as if they were merely skimming what they are hearing or being told.

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While lunching with someone yesterday, a musician friend, we were talking about sight reading, something important to musicians. It's also something I'm fairly adept at, for a number of reasons that aren't germane here. He was asking how I did it. That's hard! It's difficult to articulate the particulars of something you've been doing for half a century and is as natural as spitting.

But he told me how an instructor had told him to do it. The instructor had had him read something out loud to him, something out of a book, then yelled, "STOP". My friend had of course stopped, and then the instructor had asked him, "All right, what are the next three words?"

The point was, the instructor wanted him to be reading ahead with his eyes while his brain was still processing what his lips were saying.

I've been thinking about this, and I'm not sure the instructor was right. He had a point, and it made me realize this is exactly what I do do, when playing. I am looking ahead to the notes that are upcoming, getting ready for them.

But I don't read words that way. I only read the words I'm reading at the moment. I don't look ahead. Perhaps this is why I'm not a fast reader.

It speaks to Des' point, however. Perhaps, if you're reading what's on the monitor, and reading ahead too, you'd be less likely to be distracted. I'm a person, like Pooh, of little brain, and concentrating on two things at once is about half more than I'm able to do. So maybe distractions could be avoided, and your reading speed enhanced, if you'd try that. It wouldn't work for me, but maybe it would for you.

Or you could insert ear plugs and wear blinkers. Hey, it works for race horses.


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Actor's are trained to read ahead. I remember learning to try for 7 words. This a trick to assist the actor to memorise the lines, as well to assist extemporisation, and to ad lib. It actually allows the actor to think ahead of the lines he is delivering. I suspect sight reading in music playing is akin to this.

I know (but do not use) the technique to speed read, where you read only half the first half of a sentence and basically guess the rest, or scan the document for salient points of interest. Again I have seen managers and instructors do this and in my opinion most of them fail to connect the dots of a thesis or even a simple essay. They read and make conclusions, but do not understand.

As for reading on the web, I had difficulty at first until I taught myself to ignore everything but the text I was interested in reading. I think that is why I like AwesomeDude's colours and layout. To test that out I have a word template setup with the same colours as we read here in the hope it would enable me to write without distraction. It didn't seem to make any difference. :whistle:

I do know that if I tried to write a story in long hand I would still be working on my first story. I am also grateful we no longer use a quill and ink. How did Shakespeare cope, or was that the reason he could write so well? I suspect he had a retention of thought and creative analysis that escapes most people today.

I know it takes me a lot longer to read than most people because I like to "chew" over the meaning of the text, look for what the writer wants me to know and then asses if they or I have misunderstood the subject matter. It's a very subjective-objective exercise for me.

As I have said before, the reason I love reading on-line is because I can easily access the definition of any words with which I am unfamiliar, just by clicking on the word. It's good for spelling when writing too, but sometimes worrying about grammar and spelling can be a distraction from getting a story down, and I worry about them later. I mean that's what editors are for isn't it? :hehe:

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What are you guys talking about? There was something about skimming and shallow thinking, wasn't there? And some dude who researched our loss of brain cells, right?

Seriously though, I was driven nearly nuts reading that article, what with those stupid ads, which insisted on blinking at me for some reason. Ugh. Then I remembered that Safari (my browser) has a Reader sub-program that actually grabs the article only, and strips off all the ads and other distractions. I was fine after that.

I do think that there is a serious problem with our younger generation with this issue. They also seem to need, besides distractions, ever more elaborate 'programming' even in the 'real' world. A hike used to be good, but now they need a hike with a zip line, then next time a hike, zip line, and hang glider at the end, and again an upgrade to hike, zip line, hang glider and a bit of scuba. They get insanely bored by doing the same thing each time, even if the hike is a different one in different conditions. It is as if they need continual stimulation and can't relax at all.

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For me, reading on a computer screen should seem to be second nature, having been immersed in computers for most of my life. But reading on a screen is not easy for me. There are too many distractions. Even here on AD. When I read all I want to see is the text I'm reading, not all of the surrounding chaff which I find is very distracting. One way around this is that I use the browser commands to increase the text size so it overwhelms the chaff -- and I don't have to sit so close to the display.

Portable readers solve the chaff problem, but all of them have problems. I can use my laptop as a reader, but it's too heavy. The iPad is too heavy, it's too big and the outer edge is almost sharp so it's uncomfortable to hold in my hand, and the screen is too reflective for use outdoors in bright light. The Kindle is better for reading outdoors, but the screen isn't color and it's not backlighted so it isn't useful in a dark area. My cellphone has both Kindle and Nook software, but the screen is too small and it also has the reflective screen problem.

I'm sure that in five years or so the perfect portable reader will be on the market. Until then I grind my teeth and use my laptop and desktop computers for doing online reading, including the using Kindle and Nook software and readers for other eBook formats. And then there's my current favorite, the book. That's a clever device that's made mostly out of paper, and while it share's Kindle's problems in dark areas, it works really well for holding in my hands.

Colin :hehe:

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The "dard" is weird because I use the spell checker in the Google toolbar and it didn't catch that typo. So now I have to find out how to excise "dard" from the Google word list, and wonder how the heck it ever got in there. It's not on my laptop, but is on my desktop. Only possibility is that I added it when I was in some addled state. :stare: Whatever.

Colin :icon_geek:

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Colin, I quickly looked up "dard" in my installed WordWeb, and guess what? It is a word:

Noun. Dard.

Any of a group of Indic languages spoken in Kashmir and eastern Afghanistan and northern Pakistan

Strangely enough, the word is highlighted in my reply here as unknown, but shows up in WordWeb dictionary.

Live and learn eh? :icon_geek:

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Colin, I quickly looked up "dard" in my installed WordWeb, and guess what? It is a word:

Strangely enough, the word is highlighted in my reply here as unknown, but shows up in WordWeb dictionary.

Live and learn eh? :stare:

That's interesting, Des. I still haven't excised it from the Google spellchecker on my desktop PC. Later. Way too many other things to do, like write.

Colin :icon_geek:

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I actually ran across this article myself a while back. What's really funny is that two days later I ran across This article. Just more proof that with relatively new technologies like the internet, and even some not so new ones, the jury will be out for a while.

Of course, chances are, like so many things, that both viewpoints will end up being true. We gain some things, and lose others. A somewhat unrelated example: How many of you have ever learned Morse Code? It used to be taught in boy scouts, in every military academy, aircraft school, merchant marines, etc. In many cases when the requirements were dropped it was with considerable angst and controversy. Nowadays, cursive writing is going through the same evolution.

Before the protests come sailing in, I know that's not exactly what the article was getting at. However the point remains. Maybe the end result will be more advantageous than not.

I'm also skeptical of the way the author generalized. People will continue to fall somewhere on the Bell Curve in terms of attention span, ability to avoid distraction, etc. If the peak of the curve moves a few points to the left or right, well, what of it? There will still be people on both sides.

As to the other comments about reading ahead, etc. A long time ago I taught myself speed reading after reading a book on it. Yes, it works. Reading ahead is one of the fundamental strategies. I found I could do it, and it was awfully fast, but I didn't do it for long. It's just no fun. I went back to reading the way I've always done soon after. A much more satisfying experience.

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