I ended up buying a book. It’s “The Shallows – What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”, by Nicholas Carr. This post isn’t really a book review, although I am recommending to book to just about anyone. It’s more a personal account about the things covered by the book and how they apply to me.
I was working overtime last Saturday. As I was finishing up, my mind was racing, still trying to frantically connect the dots making up the piece of software I was working on. I was too tired to actually make much sense of the system anymore. My thoughts would zip from one TODO left on my notepad to the next, only to continue by going to check if one of the solutions I’d written was actually doing what I had meant it to do. My brain did’t feel like stopping, even thought it was no longer producing anything useful. It was a very restless, unpleasant feeling, but one that’s much more familiar to me than I’d like it to be.
Then, out of the blue, I had a sudden urge to Read a Book. The capitalization is there for a reason. I didn’t want to read an e-book on my computer, nor did I want to browse through the most interesting chapters of a book covering some professional topic. I wanted to Read. A Book. I “haven’t had time” to actually concentrate on a book for ages, so I just decided that that was exactly what I as going to do.
I didn’t know what kind of book I wanted to read, so I just went to the local bookstore and browsed. After leafing through some comics, an emergency orthopedic reference book, a primer on pure mathematics and some light popular science, I happened upon Nicholas Carr’s “The Shallows – What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”. I bought it.
And then I started reading it. Or tried to. I found it difficult to concentrate for more than a page at a time. My mind would start to wander. But, knowing what the book was about after reading the back cover and browsing through the first pages, I knew what was going on. It was what the Internet had done to my brain. So I kept reading, going back and re-reading where necessary.
The book was (is; I haven’t quite finished it yet, since I had to write this blog post…) an eye opener. Many things that I’ve suspected on an intuitive level, or that I have felt more than actually known, were put into words by Carr and backed up by an impressive amount of scientific studies.
I’ve felt like I can’t concentrate like I used to. And much like Carr, I’ve figured it’s due to the inevitable middle-age mind rot. But that’s not it. It’s the unrelenting demands of the online communication that’s destroying our ability to concentrate. The continuous distractions.
The difference in writing code at work during the weekend when there are no distractions is huge; No company chat, no emails, no phone calls, no someone walking in the room every few minutes with a question. No context-switching between projects several times a day because there is more work than there are resources. It’s amazing how much more productive one can be.
There’s not much I can do about the distractions that are, after all, a part of my job that I’m being paid to do. However, now that I’m aware of the issue, I can take some steps to rectify the situation.
I’m also going to find time for Reading on a regular basis from now on. I like my old brain better. Read the book. It’s good.
(I actually wrote the first draft for this post ages ago, and only now got around to finishing and publishing it. I’ve read all of The Shallows. It’s still good. And I’m finding the time for reading, now.)