Thursday, February 17, 2011

Log off and read a book

Read this on BBC last week. It's called Divided Attention Disorder? Log off and read a book. I took a couple excerpts from it, and agree. A couple of weeks ago I read the rather detailed plot of To Kill a Mockingbird on wikipedia rather than read the book. (I'd seen the movie, years ago.)

If you work in an office it's quite possible that you suffer from a condition called DAD. Now don't panic it's not serious and nothing a good book or a long walk won't cure.

My Internet browser has 24 tabs open. Among them are three separate attempts to reply to the same e-mail. My online banking session has timed out, and in the corner of my screen a Twitter feed is a never-ending scroll of news and links. Which I click. And click.

What's wrong with me?

What's wrong, is that I may have Divided Attention Disorder, or DAD. DAD encapsulates the growing phenomenon whereby the constant stream of online information could actually be changing the way our brains work.

I first read about this in a magazine while waiting to get my hair cut. The article is quite lengthy. Ironically the only reason I had the attention span to read all of it was that my local barber-shop has no mobile phone reception.

The most unnerving thing that I've read about DAD is the theory that the rewiring of our brains caused by all that time online is affecting the rest of our lives. It is, apparently, encouraging us to seek instant gratification at the expense of deep thinking.

To assess the state of my brain I read a book. It's an Ian Rankin novel. The hero, Inspector Rebus attempts to solve a number of murders in Edinburgh against the backdrop of a G8 meeting.

I haven't read fiction in a while. Something has changed about my response to what I'm reading. Before, I loved to create a mental picture of Edinburgh, of its streets and courtyards. But now in my brain a voice is whispering: "Look it up on StreetView and see for yourself". The story alludes to Inspector Rebus' colourful past: "Google the plot of other books," says the voice.

"SHUT UP!" I scream inside my head.

Eventually, my old brain wins out. After about half an hour, I'm lost in the book. I've
forgotten that it's even possible to communicate through a web of interconnected

It's a relief to know that my brain is not permanently changed. I can't wait to tell everyone - on Facebook and Twitter.

So the bottom line is: reading helps us relax, reconnect with ourselves and the real world, and entertains us as well. But then we readers knew that, didn't we.

And don't miss my Friday Guest: Dr. Laina Turner-Molaski

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