The Internet is an Interruption System

The Internet is an Interruption System

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The title of this post is a quote from a story in Wired, which was passed along to me by one of my peers. He sent the link in response to my sending an interesting story from the NY Times, which draws similar conclusions about the impact of technology on our brains.

The upshot of both stories is that the way that we obtain and process information from the internet and via our various PCs, gadgets, etc. is tending to rewire our brains, and not necessarily in advantageous ways. The constant flow of email, blogs, tweets, etc. leads to a lack of focused attention, higher stress, and other unwanted side-effects.

I have certainly experienced my share of these symptoms over the last couple of years, with the lack of focus seeming to become more severe over time. Needless to say, this is stressful and frustrating, so I’m trying some experiments, to try to minimize the distractions:

  1. I’m cutting back on monitor use. I currently have 4 monitors attached to my desktop PC. I thought that I was helping myself by making it easier to multitask and switch from one task to another. While waiting for a file to download, I could check my email, or see what was happening on Twitter. Turns out that I was setting myself up to be easily distracted. I haven’t removed any monitors yet, but I’ve disabled all but one, to see if that will help with focus.
  2. I’m printing more articles, to read away from the computer. The Wired article discusses research that indicates that hyperlinks make it more difficult to follow the flow of what you’re reading, and contribute to poorer comprehension and recall. Reading an article offline allows me to ignore the links, and go back to them later if I want to go deeper in a particular area. Some specific results here…I printed the NY Times article, and had no trouble reading it end-to-end. The Wired article, I read online, and I interrupted myself in the middle of it to write this blog post. :-)
  3. I’m including no links in the main body of this post. Again, per the Wired article, I want you to be able to read this through without being tempted to get side-tracked reading the articles first, so I’m putting the links all at the end of the post. Will it help? Not sure…but worth a try.

I’m not trying to be a scare-monger here. But I do think it’s time for us to look at our use of the internet, computers, and gadgets a bit more critically, and perhaps see if some of the things we take for granted may not be serving us well. I’m not planning to give up the internet, or my gadgets, any time soon. But I’m definitely going to be looking for ways to mitigate the distractions and ratholes that are the nature of living an uber-connected life.

UPDATE:

Another useful tool I just (re)discovered is Readability, which is an online tool that automatically reformats what you’re reading online (via a javascript-based favorite…something you may or may not be comfortable with, depending on your security sensitivity), to remove clutter, ads, and enhance readability. It doesn’t remove hyperlinks, but it does make for a significantly less distracting layout. Link below.

What about you? Have you experienced issues with distractions and lack of focus? Do you have strategies for staying on track to share? Let me know in the comments.

Wired Article:

http://www.wired.com/magazine/2010/05/ff_nicholas_carr/

NY Times  Article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/07/technology/07brain.html

Readability:

http://lab.arc90.com/experiments/readability/

  • I agree with the points above, but one in particular stands out for me: inline links. I think I'm guilty of including them, oh, 100% of the time when I blog. I always figured it would be the logical place, with inline links. I never considered the distraction-factor, especially for someone who reads in a breadth-first fashion.

    I''m going to try your links-at-the-bottom approach on my next post. This also inadvertently solves the which-instance-of-a-phrase-should-I-convert-to-hyperlink conundrum.

  • I really like the new Safari Reader.

    www.wired.com/.../safari-5s-ad-blocker-nudges-web-publishers-to-app-store

    Raj

    http://weblogs.asp.net/rajbk/

  • David,

    Not only have I never before considered the distraction factor WRT links, I've generally considered them to be helpful and useful in terms of supplying needed background information. I'm definitely re-thinking that now, and will continue experimenting with link location to see if I can find a good balance between readability and providing needed info.

  • Reading this post proves beyond any doubt the benefit of putting the links at the bottom of the article or post. I was able to finish reading your post fully before delving further in the Wired article. This issue has been bugging me for a long time and I couldn't understand why I hated using the Internet for studying and reading long articles.

  • I'm good with the links at the end, and yes, I think it makes staying with the content to the end easier.  I'm going to give Readability a try, maybe save on paper.

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