Deep reading used to be a natural process; now it has become a struggle. It has become harder to concentrate, so we increasingly prefer short posts to long ones. But that only closes the circle.
The Internet is shaping a new thought process. Once a man was a scuba diver in a sea of words, now he rushes across the surface like a jet ski. The web grabs our attention in order to dissipate it.
How the Internet Affects Concentration
The Internet is organized in such a way as to increase coverage and stimulate page-to-page conversions. Such incentives are banners, links, contextual advertising, etc. And even if the user doesn’t click on the link, his brain still notices it and makes a split-second decision whether to click it or not.
Most of us have several devices (laptop, computer, phone, tablet, e-book), which it’s possible to use at the same time. For example, we can play at reviewcasino.ca via a phone and watch Netflix via our PC at the same time. Or several tabs can be open on the same device: the user is listening to music, reading an article and looking at pop-up notifications at the same time.
The Internet rewards such distracted attention. When checking social media, there are always new notifications, news, comments, photos. There’s always anticipation of something new. And this stimulates a constant production of the hormone dopamine.
The human brain is looking for a reward, and the Internet gives it away.
There’s so much on the Internet. And if it used to be said that you couldn’t read all the books in a lifetime, here is a chance to learn about most of them. Again, not to read, but to know. Now we don’t read it, we review it. Why waste time on a long book when you can understand everything in a few paragraphs. But for one thing, superficial information is less memorable. So even though we may learn so many different topics in a day, only a small fraction of it stays in our memory. Secondly, there is an overdose of information, because it is absorbed at a furious pace. We jump from one source to the next, and rarely return to information we have already reviewed or bookmarked.
The more we practice a distracted style of information consumption, the less opportunity we have to concentrate deeply when we really need it.
The neuroplasticity of our brains allows us to consolidate the skills we use (read more about neuroplasticity here). Practicing Internet surfing builds the skill to catch short facts and switch quickly. This strengthens the neural connections that are responsible for short-term concentration.
Because of the rapid switching of attention (consciously and unconsciously) it becomes split and short, clip thinking (preference for short information and vivid images) is formed. And if in educational and working life, a person is forced to go through periods of long concentration, in personal life priority is given to “fast food” in the world of information.
A person has short-term (working) memory and long-term memory.
In the beginning, all information goes into the short-term. With deep concentration and no distractions, information goes into the long-term. Therefore, pop-up network notifications become a problem for the memory process.
At the same time, the amount of working memory is limited. Imagine a funnel into which water is poured. Only a limited amount of liquid will pass through the narrow funnel at a time. If we want to pour a larger volume, we have to be patient, and do it in a few steps and evenly. And if you overdo it, the water will overflow. It’s the same with working memory. There is a lot of information on the Internet, and a person grabs a bunch of facts in a short period of time, which leads to an overload of working memory and only a small part is remembered.
The habit of reading compressed information, short posts and lists of best practices, leads to the fact that reading 300 pages about the same thing is already difficult.
But it’s the thoughtful reading and repetition of arguments that helps the information gradually assimilate and move into long-term memory.
We have two types of attention. Ascending is the reflexive grasping of external changes in the environment (noise, color, shape, etc.). When we don’t have to think about it, we notice something automatically. Downward – deliberate concentration. Such attention helps us concentrate deeply.
One can ignore internal cues, external ones cannot.
For example, we can ignore the plan to buy bread, but pay attention to the brightest packages in the store.
Working memory overload due to Internet surfing affects loss of attention control. The human brain is trained to pay attention to nonsense. This is when you were looking for something really useful, but ended up on a page on penguin eating habits.
Recovering the Skill of Concentration
This is the most effective way to relieve the brain, because in nature there are not a lot of stimuli that overload the working memory. Walking around the city is less suitable, because you have to watch out for cars, traffic lights, and there are a lot of shop windows, advertising messages, etc.
Spend more time focusing on one thing. Read fiction books, or, for example, arrange to watch a movie instead of going from one short video to another. It may feel like you don’t have enough time for long leisure activities. Then time it or look at the analytics on your computer/phone to see how much is spent on social media each day. It will probably be at least two hours that could have been “spent” on a full immersion.
Estimate how much time you spend on social media posts. How much time does it really take? Choose a set time to communicate during personal time, and while you are working, turn off unnecessary notifications, you can also use programs to block sites that are distracting while you are working and resting.
For example, while chatting with loved ones, don’t put your phone on your desk, as you will definitely want to check it. Or during work, where many work tasks do not require the Internet at all.
Watch YouTube videos in full-screen mode. Sidebars and intriguing titles of other videos draw attention and distract from the video you’re already watching.
Read articles in “read mode” so you’re not distracted by links and pop-ups.
Remember that regaining concentration is not a quick process, as the brain needs time to re-strengthen deep concentration neural connections. So don’t get upset if you might be tempted to get distracted often at the beginning.
The Internet is an important part of our lives, and there is a lot of content on the Web for deep immersion: long articles, videos, scientific publications, etc.