Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Writer's Block: Distracted or just plain stupid?

Feeling distracted? You're not alone. And don't blame it on Google.

In as much as I'd like the world to blame them, it isn't true. Google isn't making the world stupid. If anything, it just makes people lazy, and I'm speaking from experience.

My exposure to the Internet and my cellphone over the years has expanded tremendously -- so bad that I find it psychologically painful to turn off my laptop and other gadgets, even when I am at home. It's as bad as my dependence on coffee, and I can't let go. I don't even want to.

I'd take my laptop to the shower if I wasn't so afraid of getting it wet or moist. And I know a lot of people who would willingly admit to their heavy addiction to the Internet. If you don't believe me, just ask Yahoos. If you don't know anyone from Yahoo!, ask yourself how many times you've been on Facebook, Multiply, Twitter and Friendster.

Admit it. We're all over-logged. The sooner we accept it, the better.

So what exactly is the problem? Here's what Laura Miller of Salon.com has to say about the subject: 'What this commonplace crisis comes down to is our inability to control our own minds.'

Web articles are designed to be concise. So concise that they are sometimes condensed into fleeting sentences and paragraphs, that anything 14 paragraphs long is considered lengthy.

Of course, other elements come into play, such as layout, graphics and ads. So many things go onto a page that it is so easy for us mortals to get distracted by the 'pretty picture' and lolcats.

As someone who's worked on and studied online user behavior, it is quite easy to tell what people love to pay attention to, and they rarely have anything to do with anything with actual literary value.

Our brains are wired to be drawn to what we find pleasing to the eye, so even self-proclaimed bookworms (like me) may have some trouble reading more than a few pages of a paperback novel at a time.

So are we getting stupider? Not necessarily so. Modern humans are still able to retain the same amount of information as our forefathers, maybe even more. But we are also bombarded with a lot of useless information that, if we are not careful, can distract us and make us lose our desire for 'real meat'.

Just like dieting, the information we let in shapes the way our minds work. If we keep feeding it junk, our brains just end up malnourished. So go pick up that book. - wmf