Sunday, July 3, 2011

Think About Thinking

I started this blog, Inciting Thought, in part because, based on many (but certainly not all) of my interactions with people, I've come to the conclusion that society (generally speaking) has lost--or, is losing--the ability to think. Some possible contributing factors: the United States' education system, the influence of mass media, and a general narcissistic attitude.

When I read The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (which I also referred to in Think About Solitude, Part 2), I realized that the problem runs much deeper than I had originally thought, and much of our thinking problem has to do with internet and technology usage. Our brains are literally changing, and there's no easy way to reverse what's happening. Carr writes: "Experiments show that just as the brain can build new or stronger circuits through physical or mental practice, those circuits can weaken or dissolve with neglect.... The mental skills we sacrifice may be as valuable, or even more valuable, than the ones we gain. When it comes to the quality of our thought, our neurons and synapses are entirely indifferent. The possibility of intellectual decay is inherent in the malleability of our brains... [T]he farther we proceed down [the paths of least resistance], the more difficult it becomes to turn back" (p. 35).


Terrifying, actually.

The more time and energy that we spend on the internet or using our i-gadgets--checking email, Facebook, Twitter, and/or texting, etc., the less time we spend in a quiet space reading (or writing) for an extended amount of time. According to Carr, in the "undistracted reading of a book, people made their own associations, drew their own inferences and analogies, fostered their own ideas. They thought deeply as they read deeply" (p. 65). Now, even when we do read deeply, "we do so in the busy shadow of the Internet." Already in 1997, literary critic George Steiner noted that "the silences, the arts of concentration and memorization, the luxuries of time on which 'high reading' depended are largely disposed" (pp. 110-111). Carr states that, while it's possible to think critically while reading on the Internet, it's "not the type of thinking the technology encourages and rewards" (p. 116).

Carr further cites how reading and writing skills are declining. Between 1992 and 2005, literary reading aptitude dropped twelve percent (p. 146). And, as our reading and writing skills decline, so do our critical thinking skills.

And, then, as our critical thinking skills decline, we become more and more a society of robots...or cookie-cutter cookies, whichever metaphor you prefer. I would argue that self-actualized people know how to think deeply, but when I see so many young people (it's not just young people, but they are the most susceptible) wearing the same clothes, sporting the same hair-styles, talking in the same manner, listening to the same music, etc., I question how self-actualized they really are. It is difficult for one to have a healthy and successful relationship or marriage without truly knowing and loving oneself first. I would even argue that these lack of critical thinking skills are partly responsible for the high divorce rate in this country.

Ever since our reading, writing, and thinking skills have waned--most notably, since the mid-'90s--I've also been aware of a decline in "feminist" (I use the term loosely) thought. I'm not talking about a "men are scum" mindset; I'm talking about women and equality. I'm talking about women feeling good about being women and about women being independent people (not dependent on men). I'm talking about making sexist remarks and stereotypes of women disappear.

If any of you are familiar with author Peggy Orenstein/her blog, PBG, or Hardy Girls Healthy Women, you are familiar with what we--meaning: the above people/groups and any other woman who thinks deeply about the images and issues surrounding her--thinking women are up against. People and organizations such as those three, which try to combat the disgraceful commercial images that stereotype and/or degrade women, are few and far between.

Encourage the females (I'm focusing on females, but, actually, this applies to males as well) you know to think critically and deeply, to read deeply and often, to learn about themselves and the world, to be unique and independent individuals. I see so many young (let's say under 25, give or take a few years) women who "relationship-hop," thinking they always need to have a boyfriend. But one cannot easily learn about herself when she's always connected to another person. People change. I know with certainty that I am not the same person I was when I was 25. I thought I knew what I wanted back then, and, yes, some of my goals have remained the same. But many are different. And, in many cases, the reasons and the processes have changed. I've matured; I've grown. I've read and thought and learned.

And, because of all this deep reading and thinking, I know who I am.

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