Friday, October 22, 2010
Is Onscreen Addiction Imperiling our Ability to Think?
At a recent doctor's appointment, I thrummed through the various magazines to pass the time. The eventual winner of my selection (and definitely for me) was the 2010 October/November issue of The Philadelphia Trumpet.
The cover bears the picture of a boy wearing headphones, holding a cell phone, a keyboard in his lap and a TV remote control by his side. If that technologically-overloaded visual wasn't enough to draw me in, the boy's zoned-out expression surely did. And finally the caption, The Perils of Screen Addiction (and how to Beat it) hammered the subject home.
Written by The Philadelphia Trumpet columnist Brad Macdonald, he begins with: "Do you stare at a monitor for huge portions of your day? Descend into panic when you misplace your cell phone? Feel compelled to check your e-mail or IM incessantly?" Followed by: "When you pick up a book or pause with a deeper reflection, do you easily succumb to the glow of a screen, or the chirp of a newly arrived text?"
If you do, then you are part of one of the most significant cultural phenomenons in human history: screen addiction.
Macdonald claims the infatuation with the screen is precipitating a transformation much like the one unfolding in our libraries. "The library used to be an asylum for thought," he writes. "Nestled amid the bustle of the campus or city center, it was once a place of refuge.... Today, the most popular service libraries provide is Internet access. (Ninety-nine percent of libraries provide this function throughout the U.S)."
"In libraries around the world, books are being pushed aside and screens erected. Why should we care," the columnist asks? "Because screens are also refashioning our minds."
Macdonald pulls quotes from Author Nicholas Carr's book, The Shallows, in which Carr claims a perpetual connection, specifically the Internet, is affecting the way we think. "When we go online we enter an environment that promotes cursory reading, hurried and distracted thinking and superficial learning." According to Carr, screen addiction is rewiring our brains.
Baroness Susan Greenfield, an Oxford University neuroscientist, and whom Macdonald quoted, agrees. Referring to the popularity of Twitter, Facebook, texting, video games and to technology addiction in general, Greenfield says, "My fear is that these technologies are infantalizing the brain into the state of small children who are attracted by buzzing noises and bright lights, who have a small attention span and who live for the moment." (Feb. 24, 2009).
I don't think Brad Macdonald or the experts he cited in his article are alone in their worries. Polls have been done were ordinary people express concerns.
In a New York Times/CBS poll in May, nearly 30 percent of those surveyed under 45 admitted they felt like their use of gadgets was making it harder for them to focus.
By becoming addicted to the screen, Carr observes, we have "rejected the intellectual tradition of solidarity, single-minded concentration" -- a state of mind often induced by reading a book, for example-- and "cast our lot with the juggler." (op cit.).
Why do I bring this article up on a Five Scribe's blog? Because I find every word cited in this article is true. I wrote my first book in three months. Each one afterward took considerably longer, and I believe the culprit isn't that I'm merely having trouble focusing, I'm being bombarded with outside interference. When I start to research, there is so much information available to provide a distraction, I spend hours on line where I used to spend one or two.
I find myself constantly saying, "Where was I?" Or "What did I accomplish today?" And don't even get me started on the social networks.
The good news about The Philadelphia Trumpet's article was the author did offer helpful tips in which to combat what I see as a serious problem.
Consider your Ways.
To beat screen addiction and reclaim your mind it is important to as the Prophet Haggai put it, "consider your ways" (Haggai 1:7).
Count the number of screens in your life. Calculate how much time you spend with each. Then consider how that time is spent:
How many texts do you send and receive per day? ... How much television do you watch? How many times do you check your e-mail? How many times do you need to recheck your e-mail? Do you visit a website 10 times a day when once or twice is enough?
Now, consider how much time you spend in activities that deepen the mind. How much time do you spend reading each week? How much time in mediation? How much in conversing with your family?
And this is the most critical: Think about your ability to think. Would you call yourself a deep thinker?
In the article Macdonald references the bestselling book The Art of Thinking by Ernest Dimnet. "Great thinkers are "people possessed of a mastering purpose leaving no room for inferior occupations."
Screen addiction has created a fear of solitude, a fear of being alone with one's thoughts. Creating solitude is not an easy task. It means turning off every screen, signing off of social networks, e.g. signing off every screen in our lives.
Budget your time.
Put a limit on your recreational Internet use. Carve out blocks of times when cellphones, or all gadgets are off.
Brad Macdonald also talks about Hamlet's Blackberry, written by William Powers in which Powers says he created what is called an "Internet sabbath." He and his wife began turning off the modem on Friday night and not switching it on until morning.
Feed Your Mind.
Once the screens are switched off, feed your mind a healthy diet of information and knowledge. Journal, take time to write a handwritten letter to a friend or a distant relative. Embrace a hobby that lends itself to solitude and meditation, like gardening or painting. Don't be afraid to turn off your iPod or radio. Create your own mental music. Read the Bible. The Bible is the mind of God in print.
Needless to say this article affected me and I wanted to share. Also, to use this much information from the article I requested the author's permission, which he granted. If you are interested in reading Brad Macdonald's article in its entirety, visit www.theTrumpet.com, or send an e-mail to request@the Trumpet.com
So how about you? How often do you turn off the screens in your life?