There S Still Hope

Many people are optimistic about the usefulness of reading in online environments and about our ability to adapt and master the skills that are required to benefit from the web. So there’s still hope that our attention span and focus will not deteriorate and take away our intelligence.

The distractions that surround us are not always bad. Sometimes we have the exigency for that mental break to escape from the mind block that sucks our creativity sometimes. If we dwell on a challenging problem, if we direct our focus from being concentrated on that problem and only that problem, we might never reach that moment of enlightenment that is usually the outcome of our unconscious mind. According to Ap Dijksterhuis, a Dutch psychologist, those distractions can be very useful in such a way that they give our conscious mind a break and they let our unconsciousness take over for a little bit and provide us with a solution unavailable in our conscious mind. So for instance, if I am having a hard time solving a difficult math problem, if I take a fifteen minutes coffee break or watch TV for a little while, I will have a bigger chance of solving the problem when I go back to it with a fresher mind. However, some people claim that this is not the kind of distraction which the internet offers us; it’s different from a coffee break, a chat with your mother or some TV. According to them, the web’s distraction is too intense for us to grasp that creativity in our unconsciousness[2].

It is undeniable that the innovations of the web have given us the agency to organize our communications. We are better able to arrange our emails and notifications by customizing and personalizing the system according to our needs. We get so distracted and so annoyed by all these interruptions but let’s face it, we all love these interruptions and we’re grateful for them. We have an pressing exigency to be constantly aware of them. With each new interruption and with each new alert comes a new piece of information. And even though not all pieces of information are useful, we are not willing to take the “risk” of overlooking a potentially important message. An e-mail alert just this second has notified me that my Seminar professor has opened up the slots for next week’s meeting times in order for us to choose a slot. Because I was notified of the email the second it was sent, I have a priority in choosing a more suitable timing. Whereas if I had waited until I checked my email later, the suitable slots might be already taken.

“To turn off these alerts is to risk feeling out of touch or even socially isolated”[2]

says Carr. We wouldn’t want to miss out on an urgent or a pressing notification. And we don't just care about the "important" stuff, we also want to stay in the loop, stay informed on the latest Lady Gaga video clip everyone's talking about or that histerical episode of Jay Leno.


Even though power browsing promotes skimming rather than deep reading, skimming could be a very useful skill. We have always skimmed newspapers, magazines and book chapters to decide what is worth reading and what isn’t. We cannot possibly read every article in every magazine or every newspaper that we buy so in order for us to choose which one we will actually read, we need to know how to skim effectively. So there’s really nothing wrong with skimming online. It becomes unhealthy when skimming becomes the online thing we do online and when we never really reach that point where we actually choose what we will thoroughly read. Skimming online has become an end rather than a means to an end,

“our preferred way of gathering and making sense of information” (Carr)[2].

With the massive amounts of information attacking our brains, many people are skeptical about our mental ability to process or manage everything. In their book iBrain: Surviving the Technological Alteration of the Modern Mind Gary Small and Gigi Vorgan are optimistic about our evolving brain abilities. They claim that by surfing on the web and Googling,

“We can learn to react more quickly to visual stimuli and improve many forms of attention, particularly the ability to notice images in our peripheral vision. We develop a better ability to sift through large amounts of information rapidly and decide what's important and what isn't - our mental filters basically learn how to shift into overdrive”[3].

Hence, they claim that our minds could be adapted to the information overload that we’re exposed to and in the end to be able to deal with and manage our digital learning processes. Moreover, they believe that the digital evolution can increase IQ levels. In his article, In Defense of Distraction, Sam Anderson goes even further and asserts that maybe a day will come when

“restlessness will be an advantage again. The deep focusers might even be hampered by having too much attention: Attention Surfeit Hypoactivity Disorder”[1].

Of course these are all claims and assertions but there’s no way they could be proven.


There’s an entire different point of view adopted by Merlin Mann the founder of and writer behind 43 Folders, a blog about "finding the time and attention to do your best creative work”. For a change, Mann does not blame the distractions for our attention problems, instead he blames us. He says that

“your mind is not getting the dopamine or the hugs that it needs to keep you focused on what you’re doing and anytime your work gets a little bit too hard or a little bit too boring, you allow it to catch on to something that’s more interesting to you”[1].

I personally relate strongly with what he says. I find myself checking my email and my Facebook page more frequently whenever my work is most boring or most difficult. I have that exigency for anything more interesting than whatever it is I am doing. t also applies on online procrastination. My mind would be desperate for a glimpse of the Facebook page or my Whatasapp or my email. I remember than while solving math problems in high school, whenever I came across an unsolvable problem, I would go chat with my mother, pay a visit to the kitchen to get some chocolate then turn on the TV. Anything not to go back to that dead end I was facing.

1. Anderson, Sam. "In Defense of Distraction." New York Magazine. 17 May 2009. Web. 27 May 2011. <>.
2. Carr, Nicholas G. The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains. New York: W.W. Norton, 2010. Print.
3. Small, Gary and Gigi Vorgan. "Meet Your iBrain." Scientific American Mind (2008): 42-49. <>.