Maya’s Granny: Joycelyn Ward
On Concentration (Again) and Handwriting

My Distracted Brain

category_bug_journal2.gif When I was a kid, I liked to read lying on my back on the bed with my legs stretched out and propped up against the wall. I was happy like that for hours at a time lost in the Land of Oz or whatever book(s) piqued my interest, and I especially enjoyed it on rainy afternoons when my mother couldn’t nag me about going outside to play.

My posture and location changed as I got older, but my ability to lose myself in stories – fiction, newspapers, research materials, etc. – never waned. Until recently.

In the past few years, I am regularly and easily distracted from what I’m reading. No matter how compelling the topic, I get twitchy by the third or fourth page of a long, magazine story. Books I ripped through in the past, sometimes staying up most of the night because I knew I wouldn’t sleep wondering what happens next, get set aside now long enough to be difficult to find when it occurs to me to pick them up again.

Even the books I once lingered over because the prose, poetry or ideas intrigued me are hard to stay with these days. I lose focus as my mind rat-a-tat-tats off the page to play in other fields.

I’ve been disturbed enough by this development to spend a good deal of time thinking about what the reasons might be – that is, when I don’t get distracted because extended contemplation, too, has become more difficult, although not as much as reading.

Poking around the internet and my library of books on aging has led me to dismiss the thought that getting old is a cause. And it’s not that my eyes tire or my contact lens prescription needs changing. They are regularly checked.

The phenomenon is definitely an attention deficit, but from what I’ve read (in short bursts), I’m not suffering old age ADHD, if there is such a thing. Instead, I have come to suspect that mind-flitting is connected with the staccato nature of media today.

As with other ills for which it takes the blame, the internet certainly contributes to this shortened attention span, and I’ll get to that. But I think its origins may be found as far back as the development of commercial radio in the early 20th century, continuing with television beginning in the late 1940s and accelerating ever since.

The nature of broadcast media requires the regular interruption of commercials. A TV viewer becomes immersed in a movie, drama, the latest news, an interview or following the ball down a field when he or she is jerked out of their concentration for a sales pitch or two or three.

Until the show returns, viewers are required to hold the plot in suspension while being distracted by a flurry of unrelated ideas. Continuity is lost and, sometimes, depth of interest.

When I first started working in television in 1971, there were about eight minutes of commercials per hour of programming. Each commercial, in those days, lasted at least 30 seconds and many were a minute long. Today, there are about 21 or 22 minutes of commercials in each hour, some as short as 10 seconds thereby cramming six or seven or more - each telling a different story - into a commercial break.

So the mind, in a space of a three-minute break – some are four minutes - is required not only to hold the plotline in abeyance, but to take in up to eight or ten different mini-stories until the program returns.

Nowadays, even if you record programs on a DVR and zap the commercials, you cannot avoid the animated promos for upcoming shows at the bottom of the screen which distract the eye, and they often cover up to half the screen including, sometimes, visual information important to understanding the story. Recently, I’ve seen product commercials inserted with these promos including audio that fights with the program dialogue. You can be sure this new practice will increase.

On cable news channels, there is the constant motion of the news crawl, the stock ticker and sometimes so many split screens that it’s hard to know which is meant to be the main source of information.

When the news ticker was an innovation, I heard tell of some people who hated the distraction so much they taped over the bottom of their screens. Those complaints have faded, so I suspect we have become inured to the constant movement.

Distractions are increased by magnitudes on the internet, and not by just the blinking ads we all despise and rocket ships blasting off from the middle of a page timed to cover the precise words I’m reading, or the pop-ups insisting I click to another page for a survey that won’t go away until I find the nearly-hidden close button.

In addition, an email notification often pops up while I’m reading, or a bell dings if I’ve set a reminder or two. And some pages, particularly on news websites, reload themselves unasked when the site is updated and a producer republishes causing me to lose my place in the copy I’m reading.

The most recent evil gimmick to mess with our minds online is a program used by a growing number of websites and blogs that pops up small advertisements related to any word the mouse pointer strays across. Some sites have so many of these embedded in a single story that moving the mouse away just causes more – and more – and more of them to pop up.

But the largest distraction is the nature and essence of the web itself as Nicholas Carr describes well in a remarkable story, Is Google Making Us Stupid? in the July/August issue of The Atlantic, which arrived just in time to help me think about all this:

“When the Net absorbs a medium, that medium is recreated in the Net’s image. It injects the medium’s content with hyperlinks, blinking ads, and other digital gewgaws, and it surrounds the content with the content of all the other media it has absorbed…The result is to scatter our attention and diffuse our attention.”

Mr. Carr is concerned that all these web distractions (along with, I would argue, the similar impediments to concentration on television) are reprogramming our brains, “remapping the neural circuitry” and changing the way we think.

“[Developmental psychologist Maryanne] Wolf", writes Carr, "worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style that puts ‘efficiency’ and ‘immediacy’ above all else, may be weakening our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose commonplace.

“When we read online, she says, we tend to become ‘mere decoders of information.’ Our ability to interpret text, to make rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.”

Nicholas Carr and I aren’t the only ones worrying in our individual ways about what the distractions of modern life are doing to our brains and our ability to concentrate. The New York Times reported last week that “Some of the biggest technology firms, including Microsoft, Intel, Google and I.B.M., are banding together to fight information overload.”

“A typical information worker who sits at a computer all day turns to his e-mail program more than 50 times and uses instant messaging 77 times, according to one measure…[and] on average the worker also stops at 40 Web sites over the course of the day.

“The fractured attention comes at a cost. In the United States, more than $650 billion a year in productivity is lost because of unnecessary interruptions, predominately mundane matters, according to Basex. The firm says that a big chunk of that cost comes from the time it takes people to recover from an interruption and get back to work.” [emphasis added]

These reports and others confirm that I’m not alone in my concern about what electronic distractions may be doing to our brains and our minds. As Nicholas Carr concludes in the Atlantic:

“The kind of deep reading that a sequence of printed pages promotes is valuable not just for the knowledge we acquire from the author’s words but for the intellectual vibrations those words set off within our own minds.

“In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained, undistracted reading of a book, or by any other act of contemplation, for that matter, we make our own associations, draw our own inferences and analogies, foster our own ideas. Deep reading, as Maryanne Wolf argues, is indistinguishable from deep thinking.

“If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up with ‘content,’ we will sacrifice something important not only in our selves but in our culture…

“That’s the essence of [Stanley] Kubrick’s dark prophecy [in 2001: A Space Odyssey]: as we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world, it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence.”

This blog post was designed as a small and unscientific test of your, the reader's, attention span. It is purposely much longer than what even I usually write and I wonder how many of you made it this far. Or did you get twitchy part way through, skim over paragraphs, check out what else is on the page or click away to another site?

[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Camille Koepnick Shaffer worries about what her husband's newest acquisition will mean to their lives in The Omen.]


Comments

You're so right! My mind did wander a bit and I did skim a bit, even though I am interested in the topic and have shared your experiences and admire your writing.

What is happening to us, anyway? I have to make more effort to sit down to read long, serious books. I've been taking too many shortcuts lately.

Well, I made it all of the way to the bottom. But I'm in 'recovery' and that helps. It's been over a year since the TV went black and now I read as I once did, long ago.

And how about websites like the New York Times, where they divide the story up onto 2 or 3 or more pages? That's like giving you 'permission' to skip.

I have seen a few sites where you have an option to see the whole story if you wish. Nice.

Well, I read all the way through. But then, I sometimes write blog posts this long. :-)

I too feel my attention is getting more fractured, though I cannot blame TV as I don't watch it, so am not habituated to those patterns. I do however surf blogs sometimes in an itchy, unfocused manner.

FWIW, I have recently gotten hooked on listening to audiobooks while exercising for an hour or so a day. I find that I can *think* concurrently, to some extent, but I also am having an experience more like the concentrated, absorbing, reading I *believe* I used to enjoy.

With the asterisks above, I am trying to convey my doubts about my own perceptions of my ability to concentrate. I know I've always felt that I wished I had more time to read. There's just never enough. My current computer habits are simply overlaid on that chronic, lifelong feeling.

So true, so true! I've blamed it all on aging, but you've given me pause for thought.....which is getter rarer these days. Anyway, your idea seems solid & I agree with it, but pinpointing the cause is tough. Dee

Interesting subject.
What is happening to me?
I am guilty of skimming over your paragraph's and my mind wandering.
I love to read but I am finding it difficult to sit still very long and really get lost in a book, like I did years ago.
I have contributed this to the fact that I have so many interest and so much I want to do.

Well, I DID make it all the way through, but I had to push myself! :)

I think you’ll be ok though, Ronni, because when I read that “Is Google making us stupid?” article and commented on it on my blog the other day, I think my comment was 1 or 2 sentences. That’s all I could muster! I basically just answered the question with a resounding YES! Ha. But you say it far more eloquently. Thanks for that.

The way you describe childhood reading is exactly like I went at books; totally, completely, happily. And now, I can't do that anymore. Like everyone else, I am looking for the quick fix. And I am finding it because most books today are written in "snap, crackle, pop" style rather than in the leisurely, lengthier style of earlier days. Something beautiful and worthwhile has definitely been lost. And, perhaps, like the Atlantic article says, our brains have been realigned. Too bad! (I did make it to the end of your post...slightly wondering when it was ever going to end!)

Yes I made it to the end. And - probably because I have neither TV nor radio, live in the depths of the country, am fairly anti-social and let most phone calls go to voicemail - the only distractions that bug me are the Internet ones.
I can still spend the entire day with my nose in a book - when I allow myself 'time off', that is! (Old work habits die hard so I notice it is easier to do that on Sundays than weekdays even though I've been out of the workforce 12 years; daft isn't it?)
But this is a very perceptive and interesting post, Ronni. I am positive that our species' attention spans are shortening, for precisely the resons you state. And speech is speeding up to the point of unintelligibility, as I said on my own blog recently.
BTW, the New York Times gives the option of 'read this as a single page' and I always take that option. It's useful to switch to the 'printer-friendly version' too, if whatever site you're on offers one.

... although I DO realize we're both saying that it sure didn't start with Google...

I'm truly glad for your post. Perhaps, it will start to make the wheels move in motion.

I did skim and yes, I am aware that this is a growing concern - especially among folks who are at home and have unlimited access to the internet.

I have cut back on my internet time and on weekends I only check a few blogs that post daily, my email and the news. After that it is reading, chores, errands or visiting friends.

In today's world of multi-tasking, it seems to be a necessity to produce and it does leak over into internet time.

For me, the only way I've started to handle this situation is by setting boundaries as to how I spend my time and have asked friends not to send me "fwds" on a daily basis. Sometimes it is nice so the very few I receive are appreciated.

Yes, happily read and savoured it all and couldn't agree more. I discussed it with my partner and we both think the Internet can encourage this flitting around, leading to lack of concentration, especially reading news items with ads on either side of the main text. Like Marian, I generally go to the printable version.

I watch very little t.v. and then only BBC with no ads and I try to limit blogging activities - all this to have the time to continue to get lost in a book.

I thought about this topic recently in the context of keeping handwritten v. electronic journals. It's occurred to me now that the reason I prefer the former is the lack of distraction and time to contemplate, unlike sitting in front of a screen and agitating about other things to do on the PC.

I had a good time reading the post to the end. You are an engaging writer (an increasingly rare thing in itself), and I just knew you were going to mention that Atlantic article.

The columnist Leonard Pitts has also written about that article.

I'm left wondering whether our already-fragmented attention spans didn't more or less demand the creation of Google.

The 1960's TV show Laughin had a lot to do with getting the ball rolling. As you will remember, the show had a ticker across the bottom of the screen and used things like quick cuts and split screens so that two or three jokes were delivered at once, nonstop. At least until the commercial break...

No problem reading through and I was stunned by the statistics of the people at work who visit some 40 web sites a day. When do they work?

Last night I sat on a plane next to a lady some ten years younger than me....maybe mid 50's....it was surprising how often she flipped quickly through the pages of two newspapers and occasionally picked up her book. It didn't seem concentrated or restful to me. And I was deep into my book.

Ronni,

I think you are very right. And I did make it through your post without even the urge to skim or skip - I found it fascinating - but to be fair, I don't think I'm typical. I use the computer a lot, so I'm subject to the internet distractions, but except for the slide-over ads I mostly manage to tune them out and do "one thing at a time" more often than not.

(Which is not to say IM does not distract me. Or that my habits at work are nearly as good, because at work, I'm the troubleshooter, and I really DO have to interrupt for all emails/IMs to see if they're more urgent than my current task. Rarely - not never, but rarely - do I have a task so urgent as to justify ignoring new input, there.)

But I turned the TV off over a decade ago, and rarely turn it on since (perhaps once every couple years, for a particularly large news event, or a parade), except to watch DVDs. I tried audio books because I wanted more time for reading, but found they were hard to focus on because I am typically doing something else and I would lose a paragraph while focussing on something else (the difficult exercise, the driver in front of me, etc.). They also lacked the immersive feeling that I love in books - and I had no idea why. Now I do! So thank you for that insight...for all these insights. I need to watch that I don't fall into these patterns, especially given my work environment.

Thanks,
Laura

Reading your posting again...and the comments. And now I see that you are guilty of spreading Attention Deficit! You put two hyperlinks in your post; what else can a person do but follow them? And once followed, how many came back? :-)

Me too. I skimmed over the quotes, as I often do, got up once to refill my coffee cup, came back and made some notes about a different subject, before I pushed on to the end of your story.

Me, I've recently started to mishear and misread words and phrases so that I understand something that rhymes or sounds like the word instead of the real word. For instance yesterday my friend was describing the color of his son's shirt as like "tobasco sauce" and I thought he said like a "basketball." You might think it had something to do with hearing, except that it happens when I read also. Wondering if its some kind of brain disease.

bill/prairie point:

I too sometimes misread words, although I mishear less often. (Well, I'm not sure about that; how would I know if I misheard? I can't go back and check as with print.)

It occurs to me that it may be related to this attention problem. We take in so many disparate kinds of information in short periods of time that it makes some sense that we would misinterpret some of it.

I also frequently leave out short words - particularly a, an and the - when I'm writing as I'm sure readers have noticed. Knowing I do that, I try to catch them all before publishing, but my eye or mind often just inserts them when they're not there.

Wow, I read it all. I did notice as I was reading that it seemed longer than usual. I find that I don't have the patience for anything that doesn't totally engage me these days. Especially books. If I'm not caught up within the first few pages, I just stop reading and look for something different. Maybe it is information overload, but I think it also has something to do with realizing that life is too short to spend it reading something I don't really care about.

Yes, I made it all the way to the bottom then find my thought processes inturrupted by the need to once again enter my personal info.

Yes, I skimmed. Skimmed quotes, tho I usually read them here. Yes, I now find I cannot sustain my reading ability through the new books, but my brain doesn't jump about when I pick up an old book to reread. See if that happens to you.

TV, Radio. et al: Yes, the advertizements on TV so irritate me that I watch little TV now. Operah especially. My other half watches with remote in hand to flip to a second program at night. Though this avoids the ads, it creates a more jumbled mental state. He doesn't do web sites, I do but have developed selective vision. I hate the coding which produces the pop-ups over pictures.

As a corollary, I have begun writing "Life" and "People" style shorter blog entries. I keep them longer at Open Diary, and I shorten them at Blogger where few people read me.

Yes, I read happily to the end but it was a mixture of concentrated reading and skimming. The only interruption I had was to help 'Whale' stand up. This I found annoying but was able to get back into the swing of your post.
However, you're right, it is more difficult to concentrate nowadays and a book has to be really good to make me read it almost non-stop. I have several unfinished books around the house but recently spent most of the day reading (and finishing) one that grabbed my interest.
Like you, I find adverts linked to words on blogs etc. a real turn-off.
As for commercials on tv - yuk yuk and yuk again! It sometimes feels like there are more adverts than programmes.

Hung in to the end, fascinated. Oh yes, we do agree. Just think of the children in our schools. Two of our sons are high school teachers (history and English), and what they say about the difficulty in getting their students to read! They both work on teaching their students to "think."
We underexpose ourselves to much of what you describe but now I worry about our grandkids.

What a relief; I thought I was the only one with an attention span disorder. It is not only in reading that I find my self getting antsy, but in nearly everything I do. Dusting is done in short bursts because I get bored quickly now and have to quit for awhile.

If I have to solve a computer problem I can go just so long trying to work it out and then I get (as you so eloquently put it, Ronni) "twitchy" and have to stop. An instruction manual has the same effect. (I wonder if I will ever learn how to use my SLR camera without using it as a point and shoot because I can't concentrate long enough to fully understand what I am reading.)

I did finish your article, as I always do, because you make the topic so interesting that I am afraid I'll miss something if I stop. I don't click on any links until I have finished reading the post and then I go back and check each one out.

Excuse me - I have to stop and go get a cup of coffee. I'm twitchy again.

I have been doing a concentration exercise everyday and have had tremendous results. It takes 10 minutes...get a pen, paper and light a candle and set it at arms length. Look at the flame of the candle and every time you notice a thought (distraction) make a tick mark on your paper. You don't have to look at it to make the tick. I set a timer for 10 minutes and then try hard to concentrate on the flame. I have found that by doing this daily, I have much more ability to focus during the day. When I make my jewelry, I am much more focused on the task at hand.
I think ADD can be overcome by doing this simple exercise. The brain has to be trained like your legs,arms or whatever. The brain is a tool for you to use...it is not you.
Great post...

What a valuable piece....thank you. It certainly describes me to a tee and is quite an insight into what it truly may be. I thought I had adult onset ADD! I think the best defense is to continue focused reading/thinking in a quiet environment, setting aside time each day to pursue that.

i read the column to the end quotes and all. but it was easy to distract myself by thinking about what you were saying. I have noticed that I don't read books they way I used to. I read a newspaper every day and do read the long stories. Most of my reading these days is on the computer and I notice that most of it is in snippets rather than developing a topic. Plus so many more people are putting in links to You Tube videos to express their thoughts with even fewer words.

I was surprised and at the same time not surprised to learn there are about 21 or 22 minutes of commercials in each television hour. This is one of the main reasons why I hate watching television these days.

As for your post, I did have trouble concentrating on it but I did make it through. One of the things I found distracting was the short width of the page layout. The post wasn't that long but the way it is set up makes it seem so. Your post has about 255 lines of type which means my eyes had to scan back and forth 255 times. I copied your post into my text editor and the wider setting produced only 82 lines of type which made it easier to read.

That does not mean I do not agree that our reading attention spans has been shortened by all the distractions in our lives these days. I just think the layout may have added to the difficulty.

I got through to the end, but it took me well over an hour to do it. The reason is, I read your post today in the same way I usually read on the web. To begin with, I got distracted in the first sentence: your description of how you liked to read as a kid reminded me of my own favorite style: laying across my bed, looking over the edge down at my book on the floor. (If I tried that today, assuming I could make out the print from that distance, I'd probably fall asleep at page one.) I was an omnivorous reader, and during school vacations would often polish off several books in one day. I can't do that any more.

Anyway, after several minutes of reminiscing about those carefree summer days in childhood, I got part way through when hunger pangs reminded me I hadn't eaten yet. Over a second cup of coffee, I opened another browser tab and did the Times crossword puzzle before going back to TGB. But I had forgotten what the subject was, so had to start over. When you mentioned distracting e-mails, I remembered I still had to send my daily one to my daughter assuring her I am still alive, but as I did that I found I had received some from readers of my own blog, one of which required me to do a bit of research before responding. So I opened a new tab in my browser, and after some time working on that, I replied. But doing so reminded me I hadn't yet checked the daily stats and referrals on my blog, so I took care of that before again going back to your post. And so it went on like that until I reached the end, which all in all, counting the periods of interruption, took me well over an hour to complete, and that was not counting the comments. As an indicator, when I began reading your post there were 16 comments; when I finished there were 25.

But that's par for the course for me any more. I attribute it to being a sort of self-inflicted information overload: there is just so much out there, and it's so accessible, I just want to take it all in while I'm still here to do it, for "At my back I always hear Time's winged chariot hurrying near"

Yes, I skimmed. And then went back to picked up parts I knew I must have missed. I share your struggles and appreciate your analysis. In addition, for me, since 9/11 I have felt an abiding urgency to get back to the TV, Radio, or Internet to check on the news. And since there have been so many serious events - people made, nature made, politically made -I feel constantly distracted by those dramas along with those in my personal life.

I very often skim, then go back to see what I might have missed.
Reading is a favorite, but, now, not only do I become restless, I try to avoid books beyond 300 pages. Just last year, I took a day off from work to finish a book I could not put down. What a rare treat that was.
I was recently told about a blog that has important information for me. When I saw the amount of reading involved, I bookmarked it for another day.

Some rapid fire comments, so as not to tax my waning attention span:

I collect and am a student of 1950s and 60s television. Through the 50s most shows were 30 minutes, including lots of dramas. Commercial time was 3 minutes. In the early 60s I love conservatives and loath liberals networks found that a 60 minute show could pack 8 minutes! Voila....away went 30 minute drama, leaving only sitcoms at 30 minutes.

The invention of the remote control has made me a willing co-conspirator in my own attentional decline. I can store 10-15 faves vote for Alfred E Newman and if one show drags--zap...and then zap back...then zap again.

As a university prof for 30 I was witness to how pervasive is our decline. In the early years, deer in the headlights looks were few. Students stayed my favorite president is Chester Arthur plugged in right up to that 50 minute bell, and sometimes beyond. Towards the end papers rustle at 41 minutes, books move around at 42, notebooks close at 47 and when the bell sounds many students are already out the door. Some of this is the broader lack of civility in our society, but much of it is a shortened attention span. It is not just those of us in the more mature crowd.

Whoops.....this is getting too long. I'm wondering if you were able to discern any of my political opinions after reading it? :-)

Ron

No, Ronni, I did not get distracted. I am still here having read your post through to the end. I have to admit I did skip over some of the indented quotations.

I do not find myself distracted when reading a book or the newspaper. I get so deeply engrossed that I lose track of time altogether like you did as a child.

Where I get distracted is in doing housework or straightening up my home. I find myself flitting from one task to another without finishing one completely. I might get distracted and wander out on my porch or sit and read something in a magazine or make a phone call or whatever.

Recently I have been setting the time on the microwave to 60 minutes and telling myself I must finish the tasks at hand in that time period. This trick seems to work well for the most part.

I could guess that you have been reading books that do NOT hold your interest and you need to branch out into other genres. If you are reading mostly fiction; try non-fiction for a while and vice versa.
Or perhaps something mindless and escapist.

Good luck.

Janet

I also suffer from attention deficit today--a big change from my abilities to concentrate in my youth.To some extend I am able to cope, by setting up a time table and time increments.So when I work on an important project I try to stay focused for say 20 minutes intervals.I keep a chart,and treat myself when I finish.It does not work all the time,but it helps.

Skimming and scanning are necessary reading skills. I'm glad, though, that I can still lose myself in a book.
I believe that turning off the radio and not even having a TV in the house have helped me to preserve my long attention span for work that really appeals to me.
One thing that could help: Go back and read books you loved as a kid. It brings back a lot of that involvement. The OZ books are great for that.

Boy, are you on target! I've noticed this blow-your-concentration constant overload mind-battering trend for a long time, and it just seems to intensify, doesn't it? I fight it, but feel like I'm constantly stamping out little fires. It's draining.

The first time I was thoroughly annoyed with it was when I purchased a VCR tape of Michael Flatley's "Feet of Flames" or something like that -- the first one after "Riverdance" -- which wouldn't let me watch the show -- it just provided a fractured kaleidoscope of many images at once, so that you couldn't really watch any of them. I figured this was intended to make you buy a ticket to see a performance, and felt ripped off. Then the same technique was used in the movie, "Chicago," and I was annoyed again. I had never understood why anybody wanted a TV that showed several pictures at once... and now that's commonplace even without a special TV.

I have been attributing the 78rpm multi-faceted overload to what appears to me to be the widespread ADD amongst teens and 20-somethings... but perhaps they are that way because they were brought up to be that way. I did read through your whole entry, as I was fascinated, and have saved it for further pondering and sharing. Thanks very much.

When our children were small, Sesame Street was forbidden precise for attention-span reasons. Mr. Rogers was wonderful. And that was the only TV they watched unless I was so sick I had to turn on the TV to distract me. I am a weaver, and weaving is a very slow process,especially with the fine threads i work with. Weaving demands the very kind of attention that we are losing. I do not even listen to music when I weave, unlike many weavers. I enjoy the silence and the focus. But taking walks, my mp3 player is my friend, but I'm not sure it is really my friend.........

If you are still reading your comments, I have to admit I skipped over the last few boxes and read the last paragraph, then laughed.

I wonder if the computer as you describe it is why I have trouble "quieting my brain" when trying to sleep after working on the computer late at night.

Uh, I'm sorry... what did you ask? I was reading something else....

I used to be a great reader and love long novels. Now I have a lot of trouble focusing on anything long, just as teenagers and children do in class. Yes, I think it's due to the way TV and commercials function, but also the Internet.
I guess I'm also interested in different things and tend to skim a lot and never read anything properly... I don't think this has anything to do with getting old... yet!

I generally have no difficulty reading through all of your posts with thorough comprehension.* This one is a subject that especially interested me, so I was never distracted in the least. I did start skimming comments -- you're getting so many(that's good.)

*I became acutely aware during a lengthy period after my husband's death and later when I was experiencing some medical issues months ago that my concentration and comprehension were adversely affected. I hadn't realized just how much until sometime after the fact. I think even my recall and rational thinking was consequently affected. Only when I could begin to sort everything out again did I realize what seemed like a quite strange period to me that was very personally frustrating.

Also, after his death there were a lot of thinking activities I needed to focus on at home, and didn't, from which I would become distracted. I blamed other things for that and I berated myself for that reaction, which led to even more convoluted thinking. I had fluctuating experiences being able to immerse myself in reading, then had a long period when reading a blog for pleasure was my max. easy ability. Concentrating seemed hard including re-reading what I would write.

I recall I used to be very bothered I was writing a too long comment here, as so many others seemed so short. Somewhere along the line many more of the comments here have all become quite long.

I have gotten back to reading and periodically can completely lose myself in books now.

I absolutely agree that our brains are likely gradually rewiring, but most especially that it is happening in our young children. I'm sure there will be more and more scientific research studies that will document specific facts about that in the future.

I concur about commls as I recall earlier TV broadcast days. I am very annoyed with the intrusion of words, promos and all the extras foisted on us. PBS is much like TV of the fifties was with content and ads/promos.

My stroke, other neurologically involved patients (brain-injury, Parkinson's, ALS, etc.) often are unable to watch comml TV today for many of the reasons you discussed -- too much action, changes too rapid. What's sad are those who have enjoyed sports trying to do so and the switch from actual play to re-play, adding excerpts of previous or other teams games, to name just a few of the disruptions, many simply cannot make sense of, much less endure watching.

Radio might be better, but they can't even give a straight play-by-play anymore. Even people with certain vision problems find the video a problem, and many with various hearing issues (aided or not) have serious problems with the rapid speech.

Some of these issues make trying to use a computer a frustration also.

I empathize with you Ronni! I love books but read a few pages at a time...

I finished it - I do find it harder to read longer pieces online (especially in a thin column like this) but that hasn't affected my reading in general. My son adores the web and forums and all the rest of it but he still loses himself into a book for hours, oblivious to the world around him.

I'm not convinced the internet at this stage is making it worse - but the easy way to test it would be to turn it off, wouldn't it?

And sites that bombard the reader with moving adverts or react to my mouse movements should never receive more than 5 seconds viewing, regardless of the content.

Personally, I hold television responsible for our lessened attention span.

You don't think this "attention deficit' might be caused by a mix of reasons showing us to be relatively sane, Ronni?

Sure, we're bombarded by media and that, naturally in my view, calls for greater, more agile or perhaps fleeting discernment. As I begin to grow up, I find I'm less interested in the crap. Fiction, of which I was an avid consumer as a kid, bores me. However, give me a good book (I'm thinking Fisk's 1400-page tome 'The Great War For Civilization') and I'll plow through it in a few sittings.

Life's too short for junk and reality is far weirder and more interesting (and demanding) than fantasy. So both the accelerated pace of change and the plethora of information that comes with it, combined with an increasing intolerance for fluff, makes for 'gruntled' elders.

For that matter, how many elder bloggers read the Fantasy / Sci-Fi genre (to be distinguished from Science Fiction) so beloved of our kids? Those who have kids that read, that is... :)

The last comment, by the way, opens different issues, i.e. education and example, the poor natures of which -- I believe, have led us to breeding a generation of illiterates. Our kids, rather than we, seem to suffer an inability to focus on the 'real' or that which demands focus, attention, analysis, etc.

Then again, maybe I'm just cranky and intolerant.

I tend not to watch commercials, so I haven't noticed the problem with TV. But I can say there is a problem at work with the interuption of emails, telephone calls, etc. that breakup concentration. There's another good article that just came out that relates to this subject:

It says poor concentration comes from our efforts to multitask.

Jim

I must admit I skimmed at some points also. Here it I thought it was just my inability to concentrate 'cause there is so much going on in life!

As children we had all the time in the world... to read books, to daydream, to finish a project. Now time is a constant nagging parent in our minds, and we are that parent. As I am enjoying the wonderful and vast possibilities in the "second half" of my life, I'm hoping to quell that nagging parent and let myself enjoy one thing at a time. It takes practice!

(What a lovely blog to have discovered! Thank you for the valuable time you give it Ronni)

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