And here I thought I was just lazy

Heads up! This post was published about 12 years ago.

So it turns out that perhaps the reason I can no longer concentrate or think deeply is not because I’m preoccupied and undisciplined, but because I’ve googled my brain into oblivion (or maybe it’s a little of both).

I recently heard an interesting interview on NPR with Nicholas Carr, author of The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. Over a period of several years of increased internet use, Carr noticed a decrease in his ability to concentrate on books or long articles. In his words, “The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.” In the interview, he states:

“Neuroscientists and psychologists have discovered that, even as adults, our brains are very plastic. They’re very malleable, they adapt at the cellular level to whatever we happen to be doing. And so the more time we spend surfing, and skimming, and scanning … the more adept we become at that mode of thinking.”

And the converse also appears to be true: we become less adept at deeper, one-track modes of thought. Maybe this is old news to you. We’ve all heard similar stories—in the interview, Robert Siegel brought up the “Sesame Street is destroying kids’ attention spans” theory as one (questionable?) previous iteration—but what really caught my attention about Carr’s version of the theory was his use of the word “contemplative”:

Carr argues that even if people get better at hopping from page to page, they will still be losing their abilities to employ a “slower, more contemplative mode of thought.” He says research shows that as people get better at multitasking, they “become less creative in their thinking.” 

If what Carr says is true, our constantly connected, inseparable-from-technology lifestyles are actually making our brains worse at contemplative connection with God and worse at thinking in creative ways that image His creativity.

I’m not planning to become a hermit or a techno-apocalypse proponent… I’m just wondering what affect all this multitasking is having on my soul.  At the very least, Carr’s arguments highlight our deep need for practicing contemplative disciplines like silence, meditation, and spiritual listening. I also think it calls for a shift in our habits and lifestyles—I think if I only turned on my computer when I needed it for something, I would find myself surfing and multitasking far less. And I think it would be worth it.

And yes, I am aware of the irony of my blogging about this.  Ha!

3 thoughts on “And here I thought I was just lazy

  1. Thoughts:
    1. Irony. Yes.
    2. Mistook pic for photo of your office 🙂
    3. I know several people who take occasional/regular sabbaths from computer/fb/twitter/blogging for this reason. Contemplative habits are worth protecting. Good thoughts.
    4. Irony 2- written by an addicted multi-tasker with multiple windows currently open, ready for their next “check”. Kyrie Eleeson (Lord have mercy)…

  2. I’ve been wondering lately, if contemplation and deep thought has become more of a group thing now. With the ability to constantly talk through things in a more tribal style through social media (twitter, facebook, flickr, etc.) we increase interaction to the point where we are always interacting. So does this mean that while I don’t have an ability to focus on deep single thoughts that we actually are spreading the process around. Consequently, we aren’t losing anything, we’re just re-learning how to think collaboratively. This would quite possibly be a skill we lost with the printing press and is being retrieved in Social Media.

    I’m not sure I believe it, but it brings a very interesting perspective on the potential future culture that the church will exist in. Are we prepared to minister to a world who think as a group or tribe more that individually?

    I see software development styles doing similar things. The corporate style of software development is to lock small group of coders into a small room and every year or so come out with a new version. The open source style is to let everyone add in a few lines here and there under community review. Release new versions frequently so that everyone can benefit from the small changes over time. Open source software, when managed well, often has compelling advantages, but also comes with its own challenges compared to corporate developed software. However, they both have some incredible potential that the other lacks.

    Perhaps the group versus individual think thing is really the same. American Christianity seems to be pulling out of a time of a deep individual approach to soul care to a more group oriented soul care. I might argue some of that has to do with the technology that shapes our thoughts.

    Anyway, I applaud church leaders who are considering the impact of technology on ministry as you are. Praise God for that. Our culture is going through some major shifts and the church has some great opportunities to help form our culture if we can step in and help people deal with the issues that arise. For example, with group think we do not get true friendship at the heart level often. People are lonely, how can the church help?

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