Short attention sp… oh look! A bird!

A long while ago, a friend sent me a link to a long article about how the way we use the Internet may contribute to decreasing our attention spans. We’re forever darting in and out of Facebook, Twitter, Tumbler, news sites, YouTube, livejournal, you name it. Studies indicated that people were losing the ability to focus for more than a few minutes.

Still with me?

The ironic and tragic thing is that the article was so long, I dipped out half way through reading to check on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, and only remembered to go back to the article a week later.

As that embarrassing incident shows, it may well be that my habits with regard to the Internet are in fact retraining my brain to have a shorter attention span. Let’s face it, I’m easily distracted as it is. (I have a novel to write. Oh look, the dishes need doing. No really, write the novel. Hello kitty, would you like a cuddle. No, seriously, write the damned book.)

Reduced concentration spans are a problem, though. For a start, you need some ability for sustained research and analysis if you are going to think through problem. Or develop a plot for a novel. Or think up coherent arguments for issues you believe in.

This weekend, the issue of how constant connectivity seems to affect my concentratoin span was highlighted for me. Tim and I had one of our irregular ‘tech detox’ breaks.  In this instance, I had won an overnight stay at the Rydges Hotel in Carlton, so off we went for just a little break away from home. No computers. No phones. I had my Kindle, because I was reading Suzanne Collins’ Gregor the Overlander series on it, but it is not web enabled outside of a wireless connection, so it didn’t count.

We took a few books and we went to Carlton early for breakfast while we read the paper over a few hours, before we would be allowed to check in. ANd I noticed that if Tim was placing an order at the counter or left the table for a minute, my instinct was to reach for the phone.

Seriously. Couldn’t  I be alone with a thought for five second without needing to distract myself?

As the day wore on, the itchy-trigger-finger reaction slowed and disappeared. In those quiet moments I instead looked around – at the rain outside, at the people inside. I reflected a little on the articles I read and then discussed salient points with Tim on his return.

At the hotel, we set up camp with our books and a cup of tea and read. I finished three books I had been part way through and started a new one. No stopping to tell the world every half-arsed thought in my head, or to read what everyone else thought of the dismal weather. It was nice.

I read a lot, so obviously I haven’t completely lost the capacity to concentrate for more than 90 seconds, but it was surprisingly relaxing to abandon short-term thinking for the day, in favour of focus and savouring the quiet moments.

And if you’re still reading at the end of this blog, thank you, and I hope I haven’t kept you away from your status updates for too long. 😀

 

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.