Yesterday I posted WSJ vs. NYTimes on How Dumb You Are or Aren’t on Huffington Post, tracking conflicting opinions on whether technology makes us all smarter or dumber. Smarter because it’s a lot of print, creativity, and intellectual work; dumber because of multitasking, distractions, shorter attention spans.
I find the debate interesting, but I go with the commenter to that post who summarized:
Seems to me that the Internet can do both. It probably depends on the person…
Amen to that. Don’t confuse tools with how they’re used. I think we all have that friend who’s petting the phone, reading email and doing instant messages while pretending to listen, and we’re all guilty of that sometimes (well, I am). But we also have that other friend who’s now writing seriously on their blog, taking up haiku via Twitter, and reading and writing like never before.
I grew up without all this. I was in my 30s before there was email, in my 40s before I got a cell phone, in my 50s when the dot-com world crashed, and in my 60s when I fell in love with Twitter. Back in that distant past, we still had endless choices of distractions and amusements vs. thinking and working. We still made choices. We still had to choose between staying late at the office, getting things done, or not. There were a lot of good business reasons not to take vacations. Today I find myself turning away from the computer at times, while talking on the phone, to focus on the conversation, without the IM interrupting me. And I find myself not doing that, wandering out of the conversation and looking at email, turning dumb.
The power of it all, these days, the instantaneous communication or whatever you want to call it, it’s just plain amazing. I love it. And yes, I misuse it all the time, just like you do.
But in the end, today as in the 1960s, what you value, who you are, and what and who you care about is a matter of how you spend your time. It’s a matter of focusing attention. You aim attention, or fail to; it doesn’t just happen.
And attention is time, and time is the scarcest resource.