The Shallows - Nicholas Carr

Review :

For Practical Summary Refer To: How The Internet Is Tearing Your Focus Apart And 3 Ways to Rebuild It.
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Do you get bored after reading just a couple of paragraphs from a text

Do you step into your room just to forget why you're there

And do you constantly have this craving to jump off from a mentally-demanding task to open up your Facebook or Instagram

If your answer to one the above is yes, you are probably suffering from a shattered focus.

Neuroplasticity and How it Defines Our Behaviors
Think of your brain as a power grid with streets, roads, and highways. Each time you think, feel, or act, a combination of those pathways are lightened up.

Some of those pathways are more traveled. Those are our behavioral habits such as smoking or exercising or mental habits such as being constantly anxious about the future or being optimistic and seeing everything through a rosy lens (Yes these are habits too and can be changed).

Each time you think a thought, feel an emotion or act on a specific task, you are strengthening their pathways in your brain. Repeated enough, those pathways become so strong that the corresponding thought, emotion, or action becomes automatic.

Let's say you've had enough of constantly suffering the terrors of a vague future and the anxiety that comes with it and you want to change that.

Given that the antidote to anxiety is keeping your focus on the now, you must strive to master your mind and keep it in the present.

When you trying to do so, you are building new neural pathways around that old dreadful pathway of constant anxiety.

Initially, creating this new pathway requires substantial effort and attention. The same way that driving on an unpaved road is more laborious than on a highway, practicing this new habit would be more difficult than simply giving in to the old habit.

BUT

Each time you practice the new way of thinking, you are making its pathway stronger and smoother. Meanwhile, the underlying pathway of the undesired habit is gradually beginning to decay.

This process of rewiring your brain is called neuroplasticity. In other words, our brain is plastic and we can potentially modify its structure.

It is crucial to note the word we use is plastic, and not elastic. This means that forming new pathways is arduous. Once they're formed with depth, they can lock you in specific behaviors or thought patterns and.

Once we wire a new neural circuit (pathway) into our brain, we long to keep it active. - Nicholas G. Carr

Given the concept of neuroplasticity and its power, let's see how impulsive usage of the internet is rewiring our brain to forge a fragmented focus.

How the Internet is Destroying Your Focus
The internet seizes our attention, only to tear it into pieces.

Before the proliferation of the media, internet, and now the social networks, the primary medium for absorbing information was reading.

Reading books, for instance, requires a practice of thought, one that demands sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object. It requires you to place yourself at what T. S. Eliot, in Four Quartets, would call "the still point of the turning world."

Now, look at the practice of reading books from the lens neuroplasticity. When trying to retain our focus, we are keeping the neural circuits (pathways) of focus active, hence making them stronger.

Unfortunately, this habit of reading took several massive hits with the shifts in the technology of information medium. Initially, the emergence of Radio, TV, and now the internet and social media.

Bring to your mind the type of content you consume on the prevalent social media networks i.e. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc.

How much time do you spend on every single content on those networks before you move on to the next

How much effort and focus do they require

And how often do you get engaged with these networks throughout a day

internet breaks focusShort Duration of Attention Spent on So many Attention Seekers

For me this realization was horrifying.

We are constantly jumping from one small fragment of content to the other. One-minute video on Instagram, followed by less than 10 seconds view of other posts. Jumping to Facebook to scroll through the feed and consuming nugget-sized content.

Take a step back and look at the big picture of the way you use the internet
Do you see what's happening

One minute here, two minutes there, jumping and jumping from task to task, content to content and each jump endures in matters of minutes if not seconds. This multitasking is an inherent product that comes with using the internet and has become a habit that drains and destroys our focus.

This is how our attention span is breaking down. We are rewiring our focus circuits and creating attention spans of trivial length and power.

This is the part where I've seen people and friends smile as they resonate with the examples of a broken focus:

You start to read a book or a lengthy article; after reading a paragraph or so, you feel a sense of restlessness, or you feel bored and you crave to jump to another tab on your browser or move on to the next content in your feed or simply jump off to your phone and scour your Instagram.

The more you multitask, the less deliberative you become; the less able to think and reason out a problem. You become more likely to rely on conventional ideas and solutions rather than challenging them with original lines of thought. - Don Tapscott,

Thanx to neuroplasticity though, rebuilding your focus is feasible.


How to Rebuild Your Focus
1. Strengthen Your Focus the Natural Way
Perhaps you have been to a gym or at least seen the scene where people pull up weights.

When you repeat lifting up a weight, which is heavy for you, you will feel a slight pain in your muscle.

The feel the pain or burning of the muscle because your cells are breaking down.

After that, when you rest, your body notices the broken down cells.

This tells your body that there are higher demands from it.

So what happens next is that your body, in addition to rebuilding those cells, builds an extra layer of cells atop them as well, and provides you with more muscle power. This is why bodies grow in size after a period of working out.

This process is analogous to rebuilding focus. The practical point is this:Blueprint. Next time that you start to read a book or text and the boredom monster creeps in, do not give in to it. Instead, try to at least keep on reading for a couple of minutes more. These extra couple of minutes are precisely where you are stretching you focus and making it stronger.

For the rest of the techniques on increasing focus refer to:How The Internet Is Tearing Your Focus Apart And 3 Ways to Rebuild It.

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Once we wire a new neural circuit into our brain, we long to keep it active.

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To read a book was to practice an unnatural process of thought, one that demanded sustained, unbroken attention to a single, static object. It required readers to place themselves at what T. S. Eliot, in Four Quartets, would call "the still point of the turning world."

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Deep reading is by no means a passive exercise, the reader, becomes the book...

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AS PEOPLE'S MINDS become attuned to the crazy quilt of Web content, media companies have to adapt to the audience's new expectations. Many producers are chopping up their products to fit the shorter attention spans of online consumers.

When access to information is easy, we tend to favor the short, the sweet and the bitty.


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Try reading a book while doing a crossword puzzle; that's the intellectual environment of the internet.

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Selected Synopses:

1. Navigating the Web requires a particularly intensive form of mental multitasking. In
addition to flooding our working memory with information, the juggling imposes what
brain scientists call "switching costs" on our cognition. Every time we shift our
attention, our brain has to reorient itself, further taxing our mental resources.

2. The more you multitask, the less deliberative you become; the less able to think and reason out a problem." You become, he argues, more likely to rely on conventional ideas and solutions rather than challenging them with original lines of thought.

3. What we're doing when we multitask "is learning to be skillful at a superficial level." The Roman philosopher Seneca may have put it best two thousand years ago: "To be everywhere is to be nowhere."

4. Erasmus's recommendation that every reader keep a notebook of memorable quotations was widely and enthusiastically followed. Such notebooks, which came to be called "commonplace books," or just "commonplaces," became fixtures of Renaissance schooling. Every student kept one. By the seventeenth century, their use had spread beyond the schoolhouse. Commonplaces were viewed as necessary tools for the cultivation of an educated mind. In 1623, Francis Bacon observed that "there can hardly be anything more useful" as "a sound help for the memory" than "a good and learned Digest of Common Places." By aiding the recording of written works in memory, he wrote, a well-maintained commonplace "supplies matter to invention." Through the eighteenth century, according to American University linguistics professor Naomi Baron, "a gentleman's commonplace book" served "both as a vehicle for and a chronicle of his intellectual development.

5. Once we bring an explicit long-term memory back into working memory, it becomes a short-term memory again.

6. The Web places more pressure on our working memory, not only diverting resources from our higher reasoning faculties but obstructing the consolidation of long-term memories and the development of schemas. The calculator, a powerful but highly specialized tool, turned out to be an aid to memory. The Web is a technology of forgetfulness.

7. What determines what we remember and what we forget The key to memory consolidation is attentiveness. Storing explicit memories and, equally important, forming connections between them requires strong mental concentration, amplified by repetition or by intense intellectual or emotional engagement. The sharper the attention, the sharper the memory. "For a memory to persist," writes Kandel, "the incoming information must be thoroughly and deeply processed. This is accomplished by attending to the information and associating it meaningfully and systematically with
knowledge already well established in memory.

8. How is the way we think changing This is the question we shoud be asking, both of ourselves and of our children.


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