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Building Attention Span


July 22, 2015

According to NY Times writer David Brooks, the Internet is completely changing the way our minds work on a daily basis, especially considering our attention spans.  We can’t go an entire day without checking our social media accounts and we can’t sit for a few hours without going on our phones.  Researches have theorized that online life nurtures fluid intelligence while offline life is better at nurturing crystallizing intelligence.

When you go online, things are always happening and changing.  You have instant access to people, information, and digital content that exist in an infinite supply.  Interacting with others is done at your own will and with little commitment. There are also many options for entertainment when boredom strikes.

The ability to use social media at your own discretion gives you control over your online life. You can choose when, where, and how to engage, and who to engage with. You can access information and digital media at the blink of an eye.  Everything online is done with purpose. This creates a fast-paced, ever-changing atmosphere with instant gratification.   This world rewards people with quick perception, instant evaluation and clever performance.  People who can process things quickly and simultaneously can easily switch between tasks or multi-task. They have strong, flexible short-term memory. This is why Internet usage builds fluid intelligence. It is the ability to perceive situations and navigate to solutions quickly.

When you are offline, you are not in constant contact with boundless information and entertainment.  There is more individual reflection, even when you are interacting with people in real life.

In addition, research suggests people read printed media differently than text on a screen. They are less likely to multitask or get distracted by other tasks.  The slowness of solitary reading or thinking means you are not as concerned with each piece of data; you are more focused on the data as a whole.  A reader focuses on the narrative and plot of a story rather than individual pieces of detail.  They want to know more about the meaning of things rather than the sensation.  They are more likely to think about things in more abstract terms.

Crystallized intelligence is the ability to use experience, knowledge, and education from long-term memory to make analogies and comparisons about new things. Crystallized intelligence accumulates over the years and leads to understanding and wisdom.

While the online world nurtures agility and multi-tasking, it undermines the ability to explore things in wider contexts.

Read more at the NY Times