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.