Posted on | June 15, 2010 | By Mark Frankel | 13 Comments
Over the past view years, I’ve met more and more people who admit that they’re very distracted and find it hard to focus during davening and throughout the day.
One of my favorite technology-oriented writers, Nick Carr explains in his new book, “The Shallows” that the Internet is effecting our ability to concentrate and think deeply.
In an interview in the Atlantic, Carr explains how he became interested in this topic:
You write that the Internet encourages a mental ethic of speed and, in effect, distraction. Tell us a little about how you arrived at this idea.
It was originally spurred by my own personal experience. Like a lot of people, I had been using the Net heavily for more than a decade. In fact, every time the Web gained some new capability, I used it more. What I started noticing around 2007 was that I seemed to be losing my ability to concentrate. Not just when I was sitting at a computer. Even when the computer was off and I tried to read a book, to sustain a single train of thought, I found it difficult.
Carr is a deep thinker and it’s worth spending a few minutes reading what he has to say on the subject. In a recent post on his blog he successfully defended his work from an attack by Stephen Pinker, the famed Harvard psychologist who criticized his thesis recently in the NY Times.
When I was recently at the Torah U Mesorah convention, an out of town principal whose students spend a reasonable amount of time on the Internet, watching videos and playing video games said the level of focus and concentration for his students is very low.
I think there are two things we can do to address this problem:
- Decrease our usage of high distraction technologies
- Make an increased effort to increase our focus during learning and davening. Start small with a few words or a single brocha and catch yourself and try to refocus.
When we started Beyond BT, we were caught up in the distraction producing high-frequency updates, but over time we have decrease the pace. Now we’re going to decrease the pace a little more and post 2-3 times a week.
We’ll also let a post stay up for a few days when we see a nice comment thread forming so people don’t feel a need to repeatedly check back every hour.
Deep thinking and focus are essential components of Judaism, so let’s try to fight the trend towards distraction in any way we can.