The Nicholas Carr article in the Atlantic - Does Google make us stupid? - has generated a lot of commentary. Carr himself has just pointed to an Edge discussion and an Encyclopedia Britannica discussion.

I have commented on the perils of distraction a couple of times recently. Once when talking about the ease with which you can be distracted by the 'time-saving' integration ability of the Flock browser (which I still use, I fear) and again when pointing to Fred Stutzman's attempts to resist the encroachment of the network into the productive time in which he codes, writes, creates.

I have been interested in the discussion around the Carr article. The focus has tended to be on consumption, on the apparent difficulty people have with immersive reading.

I confess I find this less of an issue than immersive writing. I still read books, maybe not as many as at some other times of my life. However, I am beginning to find it more difficult to write in a sustained way (no great harm there, I hear some of you say ;-). No doubt one reason for this is that I typically write on the laptop, which is also where I intersect with the network. Most of my sustained reading happens away from the network.

Recently, when trying to write something I find that I am turning off the network on the laptop and relying on the Blackberry for email. At home this poses a difficulty though: despite living in a well covered area - inside the city of Columbus - I find that coverage fades if I am not near a window, and even then will sometimes give up. So even though I am not distracted by email, or by my RSS aggregator, or by looking at Facebook statuses go past, I end up walking around with the Blackberry trying to grab some network to synch up!

Comments: 3

Jul 20, 2008
Callie O Farrell

And too many links in the opening sentence lead to focussed reading? As a virtual tourist I am easily lead off the beaten path and lose the message intended.

And yes I can understand the wandering about to find a signal - you been in Galway recently....

Jul 21, 2008
Peter Murray

I also get distracted from too many tools that demand or entice my attention elsewhere. Part of my issue is that I download a lot of stuff (mail, RSS feeds, web pages, etc.) to the laptop to be read offline, so the distraction is still there even when the network connection isn't. Quitting the applications is annoying because, for instance, I may remember to send an e-mail message to a colleague; waiting for the mail program to fire up to send that quick note is quite a time suck by itself.

One solution I've found (at least for the Mac) is a little program called "Backdrop" (http://www.johnhaney.com/backdrop/). It is a little application that puts up a solid color, full-screen window. Originally intended to remove desktop clutter for those running screencast-capturing programs, I find it also is good for hiding distracting windows and desktop pictures.

Jul 21, 2008
Paul Reynolds

Interesting thread. I too found the Carr article gave food for thought. However, I like the emphasis here on " immersive writing"
I blog [www.peoplepoints.co.nz ] and write papers and reports for various projects/institutions. Moreover, I also, from time to time, have cause to give presentations at conferences.

All of this requires an active an stimulating ecology of web practice.

However, I also combine this with an ongoing personal committment to writing my longhad.

Thus, apart from the blog phenomena I have kept both a journal and a "common place book" for more years that I care to recall. I even have sets of these as, from time to time, I change the notebook format I use.

I use a balck pen to write the main note, and then, return to add comments and marginalia in different colour inks

All this may sound a little obsessive, and time consuming. It isnt't. It's my equivalent of " being still " - i.e. taking a quite moment to write in longhand - sift and seperate sources, and, most important of all, give myself the time and the space to write the sentence I can take pleasure from, as opposed to writing a note for/against/about the utility of the source.

Is this immersive writing? Perhaps not - but it is certainly a king of 'contemplative writing' - and it produces a deeper kind of thinking [however uneven in practice] which counter balances the intuitive hyper linked cognition that is now becoming the keyboard/screen experience.

Being a Brit who now lives and works in New Zealand - tea and biscuits also help?
paul reynolds
www.mcgovern.co.nz