A huge attention span is the hallmark of genius. The biographies of men like Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla reveal that they were so fascinated by their experiments that they worked almost all day and all night in a state of fascinated excitement. Conversely, a short attention span is a sign of stupidity. Our world will never again see the essays of men like Henry David Thoreau, rich in metaphor, similes, and cascading rivers of prose.
It is moving too fast, and its events are being communicated to our bedazzled brain in sound bites and media blitz. The internet itself, when it comes to the subject of literacy, is a huge paradox. On one hand, the pace of technology causes the user to quickly grow weary of slow dial-ups and slow loading web pages, our nervous systems responding to 5 to 10 second pauses with the impatience of drivers stuck behind a red light.
On the other hand, the plethora of information, running to billions of web pages, with each search word literally offering a million or more possibilities on a search engine, is staggering. The word "Henry David Thoreau," on Yahoo Search Engine for example yields 1,900,000 results. Unfortunately, those of us who habitually dabble in this new frontier are becoming increasingly less likely to develop solid study skills, which involves developing a large enough attention span to process, comprehend, and implement ideas. Our hard drives are filled with e-books not read, software files not opened, and digital projects not completed.
Unfortunately, these habits of subject illiteracy are not confined only to this new media of global communication, but spills over to all other aspects of our lives-from channel surfing to grocery shopping, from responding to the question of a friend to designing a new business plan. Quick is in, and slow is out. Brief is hot, and long is the kiss of death. The person with the fastest pitch wins the sale.
The faster you move, the more you can get done. While all this may have its merits, the human brain, the three pounds of spongy mass, which has more circuits than the most sophisticated telephone exchange in the world, is becoming increasingly less efficient. Our eyes need time to scan and our ears to hear and our brain to sort out the true from the untrue, fact from fiction, and to draw elaborate models of how things are put together and work in harmony. Sometimes when reading a novel from another century, like Victor Hugo or Honorč de Balzak, for example, where the characters move slowly and ponderously through the plots, feeling deeply the movements of their destiny, in touch with the depths of moral and philosophical complexities, it seems we are evolving to become a different species-a dazzled and bewildered one, where superficiality is the norm, rather than the exception, and where we are almost completely losing touch with what it means to be human.
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