Attention

For a discussion earlier this week, we read Is Google Making Us Stupid? by Nicholas Carr, as well as a number of responses, including some by Clay Shirky. One point of argument was that the internet is changing the way we read — making us read more as skimming, and not as deeply. Carr equates deep reading to deep thinking, and suggests that the internet is reducing our ability to think deeply.

There are at least two paths I’d like to travel in responding. One is my recent trip to Cuba. For ten days, I talked on the phone a grand total of 5 or so minutes, and spent zero time online. I had brought along my iPod touch and my digital SLR, but no other electronic devices, and I never tried to access the internet while I was there. What did I do? Well, the middle of the day was filled with our tour activities — really, from breakfast through dinner, at least. And if I found myself back at the hotel early — too early for bedtime — it was easy to find a companion to either sit and chat in the lobby, or to head out and wander the streets of Habana Vieja (old Havana). So, I used real-life conversation to fill the spaces — and it was a refreshing experience! I did also keep a journal — my husband gave me a blank, bound book with butterflies on the cover, and had my three boys (7 and 3-year-old twins) autograph it for me. I wrote at least two pages every night — often beginning to drift off as I wrote. I brought some colored pencils, but didn’t draw — I took so many pictures while I was there that I was more concerned with getting the words down. I actually brought books with me, but didn’t really find time to read — my down time was spent either writing, reviewing pictures, or sleeping. (I even brought — and didn’t use — knitting… of course, it wasn’t a compelling project, since I wasn’t sure that I wouldn’t have to leave it behind at some security checkpoint.) I think I did more free thinking on this trip than I do on the average day — there was so much to explore and wonder about and learn. And, indeed, more deep thinking.

Nighttime view down a Habana Vieja street

Habana VIeja at night

I don’t necessarily think I need to be unplugged to think deeply, though. To some extent, I think it takes deep thinking to write a good essay exam…

As to the other path I wanted to go down… we seem to be successful at instilling a love of books to our three boys. The younger two are still in the picture book stage (though I think they’re starting to sample chapter books) — our oldest is a reader. A voracious reader, at that. He’s in second grade, and at this point in the school year, he’s read the entire Harry Potter series, and the Hobbit. (I can distinctly remember trying to read the Hobbit in 3rd grade and not being able to get through it. That said, I’m pretty sure my husband helped him get through it by reading aloud the boring parts…) While reading the last two HP books, it wasn’t unusual for him to retreat to our bedroom to cuddle with the book for an hour or two after school… just warms a mother’s heart!

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