This is not an Internet-bashing post. My Internet usage may be affecting my life in ways I find disturbing, but it also has many great benefits. All of my writing friends are online. I regularly encounter blogs, articles, images, videos and podcasts that inform, entertain and inspire me. And it’s the Internet that makes it even possible for me to have a career self-publishing ebooks.
With that out of the way, here’s my response to Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.
There are two points that Carr makes in his book that struck home for me.
1. The Internet is rewiring our brains for quick thinking, not deep thinking. Our adult brains are still very plastic. The things we do rewire our brains. According to Carr, Internet usage overloads our working memory, distracts us with the allure of the new and immediate, and interrupts the work of thinking.
2. When we outsource our memory to the Internet, we diminish the richness of our own intellectual lives. Carr points out that human memory is not a mere data storage and retrieval system. Memorization is no rote process, but one of synthesis and creativity. Memory is “as much a crucible as a container. It … [is] more than the sum of things remembered. It … [is] something newly made, the essence of a unique self.”
Tools, Carr explains, end up numbing the part of the body they amplify. The map diminished the ability of the brain to remember a landscape in rich detail. The clock separated us from the natural rhythms of life. So, too, does reliance on the Internet come with a cost.
What This Means to Me
As a creative individual, both of these points worry me.
I know this about my creative process: I need time and space and silence in which to think.
I grew up before the Internet had a stranglehold on our daily lives, so I remember well afternoons spent just dreaming and thinking. I continually draw from the store of imagery I built up as a child. Phrases and fancies from those golden days still find their way into my fiction. And I worry because my adult life is so busy and distracted that I don’t have time to replenish the well in the same way.
I don’t have–no, I don’t give–myself time to think deeply.
I also know how closely related memory is to the creative process. Memory encompasses not only facts, but sensory details and emotions. It’s the synthesis of what we know that gives us fresh stories. And if I’m all over the Internet, tweeting here and blogging there and buying curricula while listening to a podcast, then I am overloading my poor brain. I’m not giving it time to consolidate long-term memories which would enrich my creative and intellectual life.
Now What? The Plan
So. Now I know the problem. What are the solutions?
1. Regular Internet Hiatuses
I have this sense that if I’m offline for long, I’ll lose my friends, hemorrhage my blog followers and sink my sales. That may happen, but I know that for long-term productivity I need to get offline. Internet hiatuses can span hours–like a tech-free evening at home–to days. The world will still go on while I’m gone.
I’m a journaling dropout. I aim to rectify this by keeping two journals–one a personal journal in which I write whatever I want, and the other a reading journal, sort of like a commonplace book.
3. Intentional Reading
I have two lists of books I want to read: one fiction and one non-fiction. The fiction book list is based off NPR’s list of Top 100 Science Fiction & Fantasy books. The non-fiction list includes books on history, theology, science, and biographies. I’m still building that one, so if you have a recommendation, let me know!
4. A Hobby That Does Not Involve Computers
In the past I’ve sketched, crocheted, played piano, and embroidered. These days I doodle. Easy to pick up, easy to put down, and nigh-on impossible to do wrong.
Do you have any bad habits that you want to replace with positive ones? Any changes you want to make in your lives? How are you going about it?
Catherine Johnson says
I totally agree. I’m just relieved I’m not still balancing it with kids at home.
I think it good to think in seasons too so every day is not the same.
That’s a wise idea: the thinking in seasons. It’s helped me make peace with my lower-than-I’d-like writing productivity in this season of raising kids, and it’s helped me pick up and put down hobbies. Thanks for that reminder, Catherine!
Elizabeth Fais says
I think it is very important to stay connected to nature to offset these tendencies. Something about the physicality of plants and weather helps to open creative thought for me. I like your mention of “intentional reading”. I’ve been reading (physical) books in the evening and am amazed how much it has helped my writing. I’m one who is going to hold out on getting an EReader to keep my intentional reading as remote from the internet as possible.
I agree about getting out and about in natural surroundings, Elizabeth. Even something like a family walk for half-an-hour around the neighborhood, crunching through leaves and admiring flowers, has a huge positive effect. I wish I were better at getting out, but the truth is I’m just a homebody. 😀
I love my Kindle, but I still read lots of physical books. There’s something about being away from high-tech devices that really helps.
Tami Clayton says
I’ve had the same worries as you regarding losing readership on the blog, losing friends, etc. All of this time on the laptop writing, reading blogs, tweeting, FB, etc leaves me feeling bug-eyed by the end of the day. When I do take a break, I’m always glad I did. I like to go for long walks (the weather here in the NW has been so gorgeous!), cook or bake, read, watch a movie (such a treat for me these days), or do something artsy with the 12 year old. She and I colored in an intricate coloring book the other day and it was almost like I could feel the wires in my brain reworking themselves around this long-abandoned skill set. It was wonderful.
Yes, when we can tear ourselves away from the Internet, we always find deeply satisfying things to do. The hard part is getting away from it. The new and the immediate online take on such an out-of-proportion significance.
Lisa Ahn says
I worry about this too. I agree that getting outside helps a lot. Today, I sat for hours outside with a book and sometimes just watched the trees and sky — it’s gorgeous here today. I wonder if it’s enough, though, if I do enough to counterbalance the real effects of the internet on my brain. Sometime to think about.
It’s a step in the right direction. It’s part of the process of weaning from unhealthy attachments, at any rate.
Today I journaled outside. Perfect fall day, with warm sun, cold wind, and blue blue sky.
Ellen Gregory says
great post, Rabia — I agree with everything!
Sometimes I wish the internet would just go away… but then I absolutely LOVE the connections we can develop online, particularly through facebook, and now the blogging community.
I have that same push-and-pull attraction to the ‘net, too. 🙂