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BUILDING AN ATTENTION SPAN


If you’re like most of us, you wonder what the internet is doing to your attention span. You check your e-mail several times a day, toggle over to check what people are saying on Facebook, and check the bank even in the smallest pause in real life. Somehow you feel those phantom vibes begging you to take just one more look.

The truth is that online intelligence nurtures fluid intelligence and offline life is better at nurturing memory. Being online is like being at the greatest cocktail party ever and it is going on all the time.

You can meet people you would almost never meet in real life and when you get tired of the conversation you can just hang up. Are you more like your real self online or offline? Online circulation takes the pressure off some people and they are their best selves online. They feel more in control of the situation.

Offline learning at its best is more like being a member of a book club than a cocktail party. You are not in constant contact with the universe. Research at the University of Oslo and elsewhere suggest that people read a printed page differently than they read off a screen. They are more intentional, less likely to multitask or browse for key words.

Slowness of solitary reading or thinking means you are not as concerned with each individual piece of data. You have time to lose yourself in someone else’s complex environment.

Crystallized intelligence accumulates over the years and leads ultimately to understanding the whole picture and wisdom.

The online world is brand new, but it feels more fun, effortless and natural than the offline world of reading and discussion.

My own opinion is that there is room for both types of learning. It is easier to flip back and forth to refresh ones memory with a paper book, but the internet does encourage a faster mental agility to try to digest so many types of media in a given span of time.

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12 comments on “BUILDING AN ATTENTION SPAN

  1. I am happy for any kind of attention, either on-line or in the real. You are right though, agility is to be desired in both mental or the physical. I sometimes stay downstairs in a supreme act of self discipline, refusing to go upstairs to check on my e-mails. I do this with the help of a kind coffee. Is it self discipline or am I just avoiding getting up from the comfort of my easy and soft chair?
    My H is stronger and usually leads the trip up the stairs but I hold out for yet a little longer but do finally give in too. Is it my upbringing?

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  2. Self discipline is an admirable quality Gerard. One of which I regret to say I am sadly lacking. I have good intentions, but like all good intentions, it sometimes goes by the wayside. Like you, I too like the attention, real or virtual.

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  3. After I began blogging, and was making this or that decision about how to set up my site, I learned about something called “visual rhetoric.” It was a new field, concerned with that difference you mention above about the difference betwen print and online media, and the way people respond.

    A couple of practical hints were obvious — like needing a catchy title to snag people’s attention. Other things were less obvious, but no less important. Page load time was one. There are places where you can test the load time of your blog, and I managed to bring my down from 3.1 seconds to 1.8 by eliminating a good bit of my sidebar (every link adds to time), resizing images and such.

    The thing I lovelovelove about the internet is the way it aids research. There are archived materials of all sorts, like journal articles, that I never would know about, let alone read, if I had to work in a library.

    As for distraction? I’ve found a bit of a way around that by not even involving myself in Facebook, LinkedIn, online banking and bill paying, and so on. Yes, that’s right. I still pay bills like a paleolith — with checks, envelopes, and stamps. No one’s hacked my mailbox yet.

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  4. I laughed when I thought of someone hacking your mailbox. The information available online is so enormous. I’d never go to the trouble at the library either.
    Your blog is certainly one of my favorites, both in content and visual appeal. Cheri set mine up several years ago when I wasn’t even sure what blogging WAS. I think she was trying to give me something to do after I sold the studio. It was so exciting all I wanted to do was write, so I never learned all the stuff like including links, photos etc. Since I’m such a lazy soul, I never bothered learning it. I thought I’d write a family memoir till I found my family didn’t read it! Then I thought of all the things I think about when I can’t sleep at night and maybe others thought of them too. So I didn’t develop a niche. Probably not good idea. Too late now and I’m too old to fuss about it.

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    • You are an astounding critical thinker and delightful storyteller. You have eclipsed all of us in variation and decor. I remain amazed and impressed. You are, as I have said many times, a heroine for me and for so many others.
      Tomorrow we tape at UCSF in their intensive care nursery. Wish me luck oh Goddess!

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  5. The idea of attending a cocktail party in real life would leave me hyperventilating. But give me an online session of sparkling repartee, witty asides and rapid-fire comebacks and I am in my element. I often feel I can be the person I really am inside when I’m online while in the real world my neuroses and shyness get in the way.

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    • It’s an enduring mystery to me how some people can make us feel witty and more intelligent than we possibly are, during a chance encounter as at a cocktail party or online session. I remember my aunt saying how much she liked a certain woman because she brought out her funny side. I think we all want to be considered smart, quick on the uptake and nice to be around. I used to be a whiz at cocktail parties, but people don’t really have them anymore. The thrill of dressing up, fixing fantastic food and mingling briefly with people you liked was something to look forward to. As I grow older (yes, I’m not in my prime anymore) it’s more of a chore. I love the online connection too because I find my brain is slower than it used to be too.

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  6. What an interesting discussion of the two lives, online and off line that we increasingly live. While I spent most of my life off line, I feel increasingly competent with my online life. I, too, think living both lives gives us balance. Still, if I had to give up one, I’d keep the quiet, rambling discussion at a book club.

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    • I agree Janet. Although what I love about the online life is connecting with people I would never have met in an offline life. Balance is sadly missing in so much of life today. I sometimes wonder if we were as fragmented in earlier “working” lives.

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  7. I love the connection I get with people from other parts of the world – it’s akin to the pleasure I derived from having penpals. I find I always share myself more honestly at arms length, and always believe the same of others, even though I am aware they could be living alternate realities online. I’m equally at home camping on the banks of a river, with no modcons, not even a toilet. 🙂

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  8. I love my online connections! Nice to know what the rest of the world thinks.

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