“Monotasking Gets a Makeover”

From Verena von Pfetten, “Monotasking Gets a Makeover,” NY Times (April 29, 2016):

“…As much as people would like to believe otherwise, humans have finite neural resources that are depleted every time we switch between tasks, which, especially for those who work online, Ms. Zomorodi said, can happen upward of 400 times a day, according to a 2016 University of California, Irvine study. “That’s why you feel tired at the end of the day,” she said. “You’ve used them all up.”

The term “brain dead” suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.”

 

“Addicted to Distraction”

From Tony Schwartz, “Addicted to Distraction,” NY Times (November 28, 2015):

“…Addiction is the relentless pull to a substance or an activity that becomes so compulsive it ultimately interferes with everyday life. By that definition, nearly everyone I know is addicted in some measure to the Internet. It has arguably replaced work itself as our most socially sanctioned addiction.

According to one recent survey, the average white-collar worker spends about six hours a day on email. That doesn’t count time online spent shopping, searching or keeping up with social media.

The brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification creates something called a “compulsion loop.” Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect.”

“A New Theory of Distraction”

From Joshua Rothman’s review of The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (New Yorker; June 2015):

“…distraction is scary for another, complementary reason: the tremendous value that we’ve come to place on attending. The modern world valorizes few things more than attention. It demands that we pay attention at school and at work; it punishes parents for being inattentive; it urges us to be mindful about money, food, and fitness; it celebrates people who command others’ attention. As individuals, we derive a great deal of meaning from the products of sustained attention and concentration—from the projects we’ve completed, the relationships we’ve maintained, the commitments we’ve upheld, the skills we’ve mastered. Life often seems to be “about” paying attention—and the general trend seems to be toward an ever more attentive way of life. Behind the crisis of distraction, in short, there is what amounts to a crisis of attention: the more valuable and in demand attention becomes, the more problematic even innocuous distractions seem to be.”

“Nation Shudders At Large Block Of Uninterrupted Text”

The Onion for the end of the term (March 9, 2010): “Unable to rest their eyes on a colorful photograph or boldface heading that could be easily skimmed and forgotten about, Americans collectively recoiled Monday when confronted with a solid block of uninterrupted text.

Dumbfounded citizens from Maine to California gazed helplessly at the frightening chunk of print, unsure of what to do next. Without an illustration, chart, or embedded YouTube video to ease them in, millions were frozen in place, terrified by the sight of one long, unbroken string of English words….”

“The Technology Of Books Has Changed, But Bookstores Are Hanging In”

NPR story (May 28, 2015): “…independent bookstores overall are enjoying a mini-revival, with their numbers swelling 25 percent since 2009, according to the American Booksellers Association. Sales are up, too. Remarkably, it’s a revival fueled, at least in part, by digital natives like 23-year-old Ross Destiche, who’s hauling an armful of books to the register. “Nothing matches the feel and the smell of a book,” he says. “There’s something special about holding it in your hand and knowing that that’s the same story every time, and you can rely on that story to be with you.”

“Being a Better Online Reader”

“Soon after Maryanne Wolf published “Proust and the Squid,” a history of the science and the development of the reading brain from antiquity to the twenty-first century, she began to receive letters from readers. Hundreds of them. While the backgrounds of the writers varied, a theme began to emerge: the more reading moved online, the less students seemed to understand. There were the architects who wrote to her about students who relied so heavily on ready digital information that they were unprepared to address basic problems onsite. There were the neurosurgeons who worried about the “cut-and-paste chart mentality” that their students exhibited, missing crucial details because they failed to delve deeply enough into any one case. And there were, of course, the English teachers who lamented that no one wanted to read Henry James anymore. As the letters continued to pour in, Wolf experienced a growing realization: in the seven years it had taken her to research and write her account, reading had changed profoundly—and the ramifications could be felt far beyond English departments and libraries…”

From Maria Konnikova, “Being a Better Online Reader,The New Yorker (July 16, 2014)

Why can’t we read anymore?

From Hugh McGuire at Medium.com:

“…It turns out that digital devices and software are finely tuned to train us to pay attention to them, no matter what else we should be doing. The mechanism, borne out by recent neuroscience studies, is something like this:

  • New information creates a rush of dopamine to the brain, a neurotransmitter that makes you feel good.
  • The promise of new information compels your brain to seek out that dopamine rush….”

“Poetry is going extinct, government data show”

From the Washington Post (April 24, 2015):

…the “ever-elusive question of readership: does anyone read poetry anymore? Given the widespread availability of poetry on the internet, “its possible that poetrys audience might be greater now than ever,” wrote Kate Angus in The Millions last year. But the numbers below show that that’s emphatically not the case. Some people are still reading it, although that number has been dropping steadily over the past two decades.”

…”Assessing the state of contemporary poetry using survey data and Google Trends feels kind of like measuring the quality of a painting based on how large the canvas is. But just as you can’t truly appreciate a work of art without viewing it in the flesh and on the wall, neither can you come to terms with the current state of poetry without understanding that for 20 years, the readers have been taking their attention elsewhere — and not even the internet is making them come back.”

[visualizations of data included with the article]

“Reading More but Learning Less?”

From the NY Times:  “When one of the “big two” newsweeklies is going out of print, it’s clear that Americans are not consuming news the way they used to. Maybe that’s a good thing, if the technology revolution has made it easier to get more of the kind of information and analysis that readers once sought from Newsweek. But if Americans are finding a more polarized reality online, they may have just grown more partisan with less knowledge, making it more important for forums like presidential debates to deal with the details of policy.”
With posts from Cass Sunstein, Nicholas Carr, Eli Pariser, Denise Cheng, et al

“What Should Children Read?”

From Sara Mosle, “What Should Children Read?” NY Times (November 22, 2012):

“What schools really need isn’t more nonfiction but better nonfiction, especially that which provides good models for student writing. Most students could use greater familiarity with what newspaper, magazine and book editors call “narrative nonfiction”: writing that tells a factual story, sometimes even a personal one, but also makes an argument and conveys information in vivid, effective ways.

What Tom Wolfe once said about New Journalism could be applied to most student writing. It benefits from intense reporting, immersion in a subject, imaginative scene setting, dialogue and telling details. These are the very skills most English teachers want students to develop. What’s odd is how rarely such literary nonfiction appears on English — or other class — reading lists. In addition to a biology textbook, for example, why can’t more high school students read “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks”?”