Gazing at the shiny internet

As I read through Nicholas Carr’s article about Google ruining our lives from an academic standpoint, I couldn’t stop nodding my head in agreement.  I’m in the dreaded process of “studying” for my preliminary exams.  I’ve just witnessed good friends far smarter than I struggle to fight through their vast reading lists trying to decipher what is important, and what is not.  I didn’t envy them.  More so because I knew I would be next.  I watched as anxiety took hold, and started to drive their actions.  In doing so, I also began to take note of how they began to prepare themselves.  I work in the library several days a week, and in doing so, I begin to recognize regulars who come in, and the types of subjects they research.  Over the summer, maybe because it was slow, or maybe because I had already embarked on scratching articles from one of my two reading lists, I noticed one of my fellow cohort colleagues walk past me with a nervous demeanor to pick up books she had placed on hold.  Always friendly, and always positive, I’d spout out words of encouragement like “you got this,” or “I have all the confidence in the world in you.”   I was sincere with my words, but part of me also hoped this was also passing on good karma because it was looking into the not so distant future.  After a few weeks of this, I sat down with her at her normal table littered with stacks of literature.  I asked her, “why the library everyday?  Wouldn’t you rather do this from the comfort of your couch or bedroom?”  She smiled and replied “if I did that, I’d never get anything done.”  This reified a lot of what I’d already been thinking to myself.

I equate much of my current experience of graduate school to a time warp.  With every intention of making every minute of the day count, I often find myself chasing something down the rabbit holes of the internet.  Just now, I wasted 20 minutes searching for clever memes to illustrate whatever message I forgot I was making.  Herein lies the problem.  God love the internet for all the advances and knowledge that is now extended to my fingertips, it is also slowly ruining my life and diminishing my already taxed ability to concentrate.  I’m not sure which it has impacted more: my ability to critically read, or critically write.  My academic discipline is both reading and writing intensive.  This was made abundantly clear in my first semester when in one of my orientation classes, I was encouraged to learn how to “skim.”  This was reinforced by more veteran students engaged in prelim preparation who routinely told me they merely browsed the contents of books to find topics of interest.  There just isn’t enough time.  Carr mentions this in his article as well.  He details a study in which the author states:

“It is clear that users are not reading online in the traditional sense; indeed there are signs that new forms of “reading” are emerging as users “power browse” horizontally through titles, contents pages and abstracts going for quick wins. It almost seems that they go online to avoid reading in the traditional sense.”

So which is it then?  Not enough time, or the inability to concentrate?  Pick one, and you’re probably right.  I know I’m not alone on this, as I’ve spoken with classmates about the same issue.  Our very own Sara Harrell told several of us how taking a social media hiatus did wonders for her productivity.  I’ve routinely witnessed these types of posts on Facebook, and anticipate doing the same as my own deadline approaches.  Who knows, I may be the next student you see tucked away in some corner of the library, unplugged from technology with a stack of books trying to learn without the shiny internet enticing me with distractions and the promise of adventure.

11 Replies to “Gazing at the shiny internet”

  1. I am in the same boat. It is literally an addiction. I can’t not hit social media or the internet. Even at dinner with my wife it is hard to keep the phone away. In a class or boring departmental seminar, forget about it.

    I downloaded an app called Quality Time which measures the time I spend on my phone and it clocks me in at over 4 hours a day. That’s nearly 30 hours a week – imagine how much more productive I could be if I put that into my studies (I am also coming up on prelims, good luck to us both). I bet I spent half of my time in any given class on social media or googling random nonsense.

    I wish Carr had a better answer to this problem… it negatively impacts every part of my life, not just the classroom experience.

    (Excellent pic for internet guide BTW).

    • Oh man, smart phones @ the dinner table… I can completely relate. I feel badly when I do it–because I WILL CHECK IT if it is there. So when I come in in the evening, I have started putting my phone in a ceramic bowl with my keys and my wallet… and I only go retrieve it if it beeps (or if it’s time to FaceTime a relative.) I’ve gotten to the point where I typically don’t touch it until it’s time to go to bed (it’s still my alarm clock!) It was SO HARD at first, but I’m getting better. And I’m SO much happier AND more productive!

      Good luck with dealing with the smart phone struggle. It’s such a temptation to stay connected all the time–that fear of missing out is a B!

  2. Ive struggled with balancing distractions in my physical location which is why i make the effort to do all my work from my lab/office on campus. Computer borne distractions are a different story, I can behave for bursts and stay on task, but I also make deals with myself to finish a thought and then surf aimlessly, or write a section then go play xbox. Everyone should find the balance that works for them, and leverage the technology to their advantage. Google is a dangerous thing, but it also works wonderfully when used for good. I get regular notifications when my favorite researchers post new articles of any kind, simplifying my literature review process.

  3. I have this chrome extension called Block and Focus where I have added the websites I frequently visit to procrastinate. Every time I sit down to work, I activate that extension and it blocks the access to reddit, facebook, twitter etc and shows a motivational quote instead. Just that reminder is enough to get me back to work instead of aimlessly browsing.

  4. Thanks for your post! I can definitely relate to a lot of what you shared. My program is also reading and writing intensive, and I had to re-learn how to read (and just skim) articles and books when I first started. I learned tips and tricks from other students because I just did not have enough time to read everything that was assigned. It is really interesting to reflect on these experiences after reading the articles for this week.

    Good luck on your prelim!

  5. Hey Jason! Thanks for the shout-out. I feel like I’m in some sort of a social media rehab now. Sure, I still do it a little here and there, but I have been turning away from it more and more (completely removed FB from my phone) and the results have been nothing short of life changing. I actually got to read a book for FUN this week–on top of all of my normal assignments. Would you believe me if I told you I was completely caught up in my work with nothing stressing me as we roll into this holiday weekend? It’s a feeling that I didn’t know I could achieve. I started on FB soon after it became a thing when I was a freshman in college in 2004. 13 years of life–most of it spent in college–completely plugged into and cataloging everything on social media. Looking at it now, I’m not surprised at how my thinking and communicating skills have changed–and not always for the better!

    I can relate to what you were saying about Carr’s article. I am also finding it more frustrating to think and write critically–and communicate those thoughts well–and I agree, I think it’s our habitual iron-grip on the internet that is diminishing these skills. At least, that’s what I think has happened to me. I agree that after reading Carr, I kind of wished he had some ideas for solutions to the problem. But, since he didn’t, I did a little soul searching.
    As a result, I’m choosing to read more–like, really read. More deep thinking about articles, more books–namely literature: writing that is meant to touch the soul and reflect on humanity. That’s where I nurture and hone my skills of communication–from the people who are tapping into everything that’s NOT the internet.

    And I also want to say GOOD LUCK on your Prelims! You’re going to do great. You know more than you think, just trust yourself and continue to push! 🙂

  6. Three quick things: 1) I’ve had good luck using “pomodoros” for time management and distraction purposes. 2) in history we use the method called “busting a book“ to help graduate students learn how to navigate a long prelim reading list. I think it works a lot better than skimming. I think there’s a handout for how to do it somewhere. I will try to find it. 3) good luck on your prelims!

  7. Interest post and comments! I have the same problem – reaching for my phone has almost turned into a reflex. When I’m really pressed for time to get something done, I put it on silent and leave it where my arm cannot reach. I find myself at times grabbing at emptiness where my phone usually sits…it is very unhealthy. This comment is not helping, I suppose, but acknowledgement is the first step to rehab right?

  8. Ooohhhh…. yeah. And don’t forget the ever-demanding email acct.(s). I feel like I need to put a footer on my emails that says “I only check emails once a day, if I actually have time, while eating dinner (if eating alone).” Such a conundrum this connectivity that enhances our ability to communicate and learn, but hampers our ability to communicate and learn.

    If you figure out anything about studying for prelims., let me know. allright? I’m gonna’ be right behind you it looks like.
    Thanks for posting, Jason. Always a delight to read.

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