Monday, May 30, 2011

Think About Solitude, Part 2

(If you haven't read my original post, Think About Solitude, I encourage you to do so--but you do not need to have read it to make sense of Part 2.)

I recently read The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (which I mentioned briefly in Think About Books, Part 2). It was a fascinating book and I will probably refer to it in several upcoming posts. It's one of those books that I keep pondering, even though I finished it two days ago. That seems an appropriate reaction, too, since thinking deeply (or, critically) is one of the main ideas that Carr discusses in the book.

As Carr demonstrates, the internet is changing our brains in such a way that one might say it's creating, generally speaking, a society with technology-induced ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder). The internet limits one's ability to really contemplate and understand the information one reads and how it might apply to his or her life. Carr writes that "[t]he development of a well-rounded mind requires both [my emphasis] an ability to find and quickly parse a wide range of information and [my emphasis] a capacity for open-ended reflection.... We need to work in Google's 'world of numbers,' but we also need to be able to retreat to Sleepy Hollow. The problem today is that we're losing our ability to strike a balance between those two very different states of mind" (p. 168).

Carr later quotes novelist David Foster Wallace: "Learning how to think really means learning how to exercise some control over how and what you think. It means being conscious and aware enough to choose what you pay attention to and to choose how you construct meaning from experience" (pp. 194-5).

In other words, we need to "unplug" every so often. We need solitude, nature, and some form of silence. We need time and space to think.

This evening I rollerbladed a little over 11 miles. A lot of people like to listen to music when they exercise; but, when I exercise, I like to just think about things--in the way that constantly "connected" people might not be able to.

Me, unplugged.

While I rollerbladed I thought about Carr's book, and that is when the idea for this blog post came to me. I also pondered my career/job options. I wrote poetry in my head while I rolled along. I thought about my friends and family. I listened to my wheels against the pavement and enjoyed the sound they made. I delighted in the little noises of nature and watched bunnies hop through the reeds along the path. I thought about how, at 90+ degrees (even in the evening), there was no way I could do the full 15.8 miles I've done the last few times I've been out.

And every thought took me back to Carr's book and our society's reliance on technology and the distractedness it creates. I am certainly not immune to this technology-induced ADD; and, as I thought about Carr's book, I realized that I don't want to lose my capacity to read deeply and think critically. Therefore, I think that in order to hold on to this ability, I need to make time to read, write, or do any other activity uninterrupted--time when I'm not texting or checking email, Facebook, or Twitter.


1 comment:

  1. I agree that solitude is a necessity--at least for those who dare to challenge their own thoughts (or wish to broaden them).
    But people are social creatures and a hefty piece of us is parsed out to rely on the company of others. I used to struggle with this. On more than one occasion, I had to bugger out of town to get away from people altogether. I would camp in an isolated spot or simply sleep in my car until the frustration with other people waned and my need to wade into their seemingly narrow lives returned.
    I think most people would consider this as a flaw. And in a broad aspect, I would agree to an extent. But I alo think that those who consider solitude as a punishment via boredom as one as well.