In the quiet spaces opened up by the sustained,
undistracted reading of a book, or by any other
act of contemplation, for that matter, we make
our own associations, draw our own inferences
and analogies, foster our own ideas. . . .
If we lose those quiet spaces, or fill them up
with “content,” we will sacrifice something
important not only in our selves but
in our culture. —Nicholas Carr, The Atlantic, 2008
In Nicholas Carr’s 2008 essay, Is Google Making
Us Stupid? What the Internet is doing to our brains,
Carr confessed, “Over the past few years I’ve had
an uncomfortable sense that someone,
or something, has been tinkering with my brain,
remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming
the memory.” In the article, Carr noted that he
had lost the ability to read for hours.
After reading just a few pages of text,
his mind would wander.
I’ve noticed the same problem when I read
and write. And, like Carr, I attribute it to the
amount of time I spend online, taking in
information. I’ve tried to keep strict boundaries
between my writing life and the Internet.
I don’t go online until I’ve finished my daily
writing. I won’t leave open my email or
Twitter and Facebook feeds while I work—
even if I am doing a relatively boring task.
I don’t use my smart phone to surf or
text in the car, when I exercise, or when I
am with family or friends.
That said, I spend hours online every day.
Whenever I need a piece of information for
an article, I do a Web search. I read a
good amount of research and creative
writing online. I frequently visit social
networking sites. In the evening, watching
television or reading a magazine, I’ll
frequently go back online to get more
information on something I’ve read.
Thanks to smart tags, many of my
magazines now interact with online sites.
By the end of the day, I experience what
I call cyber-induced monkey mind. Long
after I’ve turned off the computer, my
brain is flitting between ideas and my
long list of tasks. This impacts my writing.
I don’t know about you, but my writing
depends on quiet spaces to think up
and spin out ideas. For that reason,
I am taking a reading day twice a month.
On those days, I pretend I am on vacation.
I do not check email, update my Facebook
status, or check in on Twitter. Instead, I
sit in my favorite chair and read. In
between pages, I jot down quotes I
want to remember. In between
chapters, I daydream and nap a bit.
At the end of the day, I feel rested
and less anxious about what I need
Writers, give yourself the gift of a
reading day. Reading offline will deepen
your writing. Time away from your work
and the computer will refresh you. New
ideas will take root inside of you. When
you return to your writing desk, your attention
span might even be a smidgen longer!
Now that’s something to celebrate!
Coach Rochelle Melander teaches professionals
how to write faster, get published,
establish credibility, and navigate the
new world of social media. Get your
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