My computer went down, so to speak, on Friday and so I had to endure life without one. I felt rather like a Benedictine monk from the 15th Century. I felt an incredible sense of loss and lack of focus. Without easy access to Facebook, I began to feel I was losing my identity. Rendering this even more pathetic, I have access to everything on my iPhone. But it just wasn’t the same.
Clearly, I learned that my habits and proclivities vis a vis the computer amount to nothing short of an addiction.
$740.00 later, I’m back.
Coincidentally to all this — some might say ironically, as no one seems to know the difference anymore — during this time I have been reading Nicholas Carr’s excellent book, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. He didn’t have to convince me. From my own experience, I am reasonably convinced my Internet usage is turning my own brain to mush.
It first hit home this summer when I decided I simply couldn’t go another year without reading The Brothers Karamazov by Dostoevsky. This is, obviously, what we call a “big Russian novel.” So I found it, bought it, lugged it home, bought a case of vodka and settled in to read the great tome.
Halfway through the first page, my eyes were burning, my head was aching, I was wondering what was going on AT THAT MOMENT on Facebook, I had to check, I put the book down and logged on and I felt so much better, you have no idea.
Two hours later, I got back to the Brothers made it most of the way through the first page before falling into a profound sleep.
A month later, after a sustained effort at reading the book, I was 11 pages in. Clearly. something was happening to my brain, something not so good.
In his book, Carr is very thorough and relentless in his examination of this situation, which isn’t just happening to me. To a certain extent, it’s happening to all of us. Through our use of the Internet, we are rewiring our brains to become proficient at skimming and increasingly unlikely to engage in and deep analytical thinking.And what we’re doing to our long term memories is positively chilling.
I’m trying to mitigate against this. I’m testing and stretching my feeble memory by memorizing poems. Now there’s a quaint pastime in the digital age: memorizing a Shakespearean sonnet. I’m working on #60, “Like as the waves make toward the pebbled shore . . . ” (I wrote that from memory!) After a month or so, I’m about halfway through. Still, it’s a start.
And I’m reading books, such as The Shallows, like my life depended on it. But the best way to fight it is probably exactly what happened to me. To be denied access, or to deny yourself access, and to simply walk away from the computer and reading, or going for a walk, or playing with your kid or your dog or whatever — I think it’s critical to do such things.
Such a break was forced on me, but I think it was a good thing, a blessing in disguise, as it were.
And now, rather than post this and check compulsively to see how many hits I’ve generated, I’m going to post it and get back to a very good book. I suggest if you’re concerned about this as it relates to your own brain, you read this book. To say the least, it’s a cautionary tale.