I’ve mentioned before that I’m a book junkie. In a perfect world, I would read at least one book per week. In the world I live in, I only get through one or two per month. That is still probably more than most people, I suppose. I’m typically driven by curiosity and a drive to learn and improve. I also love the feeling of escape by diving deep into a book.
Over the recent past (it is hard to put a time frame on this), I have had less “success” with books. I have trouble concentrating on my reading and I fail to absorb as much as I’d like. This hasn’t been obvious to me on a conscious level, but instead, more like a nagging, unconscious sense of frustration with my reading.
Similarly, I have had challenges with focused writing, which, historically, I have also enjoyed and excelled at. Writing now seems to take me longer and the end result is rarely as crisp as I’d like it.
I just finished reading a book called “Shallows”, by Nicholas Carr and in doing so, I have become aware that I have been a boiling frog. Technology has been slowly ruining my brain!
In short, Carr’s premise is that because the way the web and computing has evolved, because of our complete technological immersion and because of the massive amounts of information we are exposed to every day, we (generally speaking) have, over a short period of time, literally re-wired our brains to be more productive in this new world. This adaptation is good on one hand, but he paints a clear picture of the drawbacks of this change.
Just like exercising our muscles, our brains adapt over time based on use it or lose it. Because we now use our brains less frequently for concentrated, focused mental work, like reading a book and contemplating its messages (or spending attentive time writing), our brains have slowly atrophied these abilities. And because technology and the vast amount of information we have to manage every day demands that our brains do frequent and shallow thinking, our brains have, in essence, traded in our old brains for new high tech, high paced brains.
Sorry to Mr. Carr for my bastardization of your work with this summary. Ironically, I believe it is the thesis you write about that has impaired my ability to absorb and pass your ideas on here. From the years of constantly monitoring my Inbox, mega-surfing, responding to instant messages, Facebook updates, Tweets, etc, I have damaged my ability to read and write deeply, for long, focused periods of time. Damn. That sucks.
It might seem ironic that the president of a successful technology company would be condoning a book that discusses the dangers and drawbacks of the very thing he sells. It would be like the leader of a cigarette company supporting the surgeon general’s warning.
I don’t love computers for the sake of computers. Information technology is a means to an end: better business. THAT is my passion.
And be clear that these issues here aren’t the fault of technology. I misspoke: technology isn’t ruining my brain, I am. We all make the choices in how we use (or misuse) technology and books like “Shallows” will do nothing but improve our use of technology. The end result: we’ll see better business.
Read the book and change how you use technology. Of course, if you are still reading this far into this long blog, maybe you don’t need to.
If I can stay focused on this topic for long enough, I’ll write some additional blogs related to this in coming weeks. Stay tuned.