Distraction is a hot-button topic in the digital age. The staggering amount of information that is constantly available through laptops and smartphones is both exciting and overwhelming, and it gives rise to questions of digital natives’ ability to focus. Admittedly, even while writing this I have been tempted to glance away to my phone or fuss with my music player, effectively limiting my concentration. The question I would like to pose with this post is this: how can we make the digital humanities less distracting for the people that view it?
Nicholas Carr makes a solid case for the effects of internet distraction in his article, “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains,” published on WIRED. He asserts that, “we ask the Internet to keep interrupting us in ever more varied ways. We willingly accept the loss of concentration and focus, the fragmentation of our attention, and the thinning of our thoughts in return for the wealth of compelling, or at least diverting, information we receive. We rarely stop to think that it might actually make more sense just to tune it all out.” However, there was a certain measure of irony in reading this article as I scrolled. Almost from the start I was already distracted by the website itself. A pop-up demanded that I either whitelist wired.com on my ad-blocker or pay a subscription fee. Once I had whitelisted the site I began the article again. However, the ads that my web blocker had held at bay now flooded the right side of my screen, beckoning me to scroll through shiny watches on amazon or watch the latest trailer for a popular TV series. I found it curious that I could not find a focused space even for an article on focus.
This experience brought several interesting questions to mind regarding the construction of digital humanities. Many of the DH projects I have seen during this semester have a wealth of information, and understandable fact since the often broad scope of DH projects lends itself to great deals of information. However, the way the information is organized can be problematic. The landing page for a DH project will be crowded with links, each of them interesting trails of the project that I could follow. Oftentimes the overwhelming amount of information can deter me from further discovery because I don’t know where to start and I don’t want to take the time to figure out. Once I do dive into a project, there are constantly new pathways to follow and hyperlinks with additional information, all of which Nicholas Carr would suggest are limiting what I can actually take away from the project.
With these things in mind, how can we make the digital humanities more focus-friendly? If a project is presented in more streamlined, less overwhelming contexts does it become less intellectually sound? Can we strike a balance between focus and project depth? All of these are questions that DH scholars would do well to keep in mind, lest they continue to present valuable projects in methods that reduce audience takeaway.
Carr, Nicholas. “The Web Shatters Focus, Rewires Brains.” WIRED. 2010. Online.