I Couldn’t Even Read the Whole Article


25 July 2009

A pile of work to do today, most of it on the computer; instead I baked cookies, sat outside staring at the grass, talked to the dog.  Read a little (a book, not a screen).  Can’t seem to get clear-headed or focused.  Very tired, and blah.

Opened my email and gingerly clicked on a link from a friend to an article in the London Times about digital-info overload.  Of course, I didn’t get through all of it.  But here are highlights.  Thanks, SKB — today, this is definitely me.

…the sense of mind-lag and unease that result from info-overload may be causing significant levels of anxiety and depression.

The concerns have been raised by two newly published studies which indicate that streaming digital news may now run faster than our ability to make moral judgments. Rapid info-bursts of stabbings, suffering, eco-threat and war are consumed on a “yes-blah” level but don’t make us indignant, compassionate or inspired. It seems that the quicker we know, the less we may care — and the less humane we become.

One fear is that habitual rapid media-browsing can, ironically, block our ability to develop wisdom. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, announced recently that they had compiled compelling evidence that even the universal traits of human wisdom — empathy, compassion, altruism, tolerance and emotional stability — are hard-wired into our brains. In Archives of General Psychiatry, Professor Dilip Jeste says that neurons associated with those attributes seem to be sited primarily in areas of the prefrontal cortex — the slower-acting, recently evolved regions of our brain that are bypassed when the world feels stressful and our primitive survival instincts grab the controls.


5 Responses to “I Couldn’t Even Read the Whole Article”

  1. Brad Green Says:

    Just today I’ve read that Stephen King is selling signed copies of his new book and within the statement there’s mention of a need to preserve the book as an object.

    And elsewhere I read about an online journals calling it quits after ten years. The editors admit that even they rarely read online lit.

    And now this was the next article I encountered in my feed reader. I feel this info-overload as well, in both how it relates to everyday life and literary life online. I wonder, however, if people in their early twenties feel the same way? Maybe they’re better able to cope or process this surface-oriented swarm of bits.

  2. Eric Says:

    You’re making great strides towards the stilted blog-form writing, Sonya.

    As someone in their twenties (maybe a somewhat singular example)I can give a firm maybe that we’re better able to process information in a meaningful way. I can speak for a few of my age group in saying that we were deeply moved by the events in Mumbai and Iran, but I can also see a certain activism that seems to be more fad and fashion trend than anything rooted in “wisdom.”

  3. sonyachung Says:

    Are you guys trying to make me feel old? 😛

    I do feel caught between the generations; young enough to be steeped in technology as primary mode, but old enough that my brain is still partially wired for analog. And, perhaps more importantly, not quite willing to allow my brain to be fully re-wired, which is what studies show is happening to us the more time we spend interacting with screens. I’ve been debating about the iphone, and the thing that gives me most pause is when friends say, “You’ve got to do it; it will change your life.”

  4. dannypeters Says:

    Computer usage can be divided into two categories: time savings, and time suckage. The same can be said for cell phone features. So ask yourself: In which category do each of the iPhone features fall under for you?

    Much of our modern gadgetry is pernicious, both in terms of time and social interaction. People are more likely to watch bad television than join a bowling league. They’re more likely to surf the Web than eat dinner with their neighbor. And while it’s easier to edit a manuscript on a computer, you can’t spend hours looking up funny videos on a typewriter. Cell phones help us find people more easily, but they are also, due to texting, an obvious cause of the degeneration of common writing skills (and also of common decency, as anyone who’s ever been in a library or a book store with some yahoo ruining everyone’s peace and quiet can attest). There’s the good and the bad with all this stuff. Those that cannot avoid the bad should probably forego the gadget.

    Personally, I am constantly seeking a simpler life. Walden is one of my desert island books. The only piece of electric or electronic equipment I’m in the market for is a rice cooker.

  5. Eric Says:

    I’m intrigued by the idea that the very way we think is being altered by technology. I wonder often about distance, how we interpret it and feel about it. What did the advent of the car do to that? The plane?

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