As we become more and more steeped in a technologically connected world, scholars are turning their attention and work toward understanding both the benefits and challenges with reading on the internet. Much of the conversation revolves around distraction, as noted by Nicholas Carr and Tony Schwartz. In the New York Times article “Addicted to Distraction,” Schwartz calls attention to “[t]he brain’s craving for novelty, constant stimulation and immediate gratification [which] creates something called a ‘compulsion loop.’ Like lab rats and drug addicts, we need more and more to get the same effect” (Schwartz). Ultimately, Schwartz sets out to break the compulsive cycle that he has attributed to constant connection to the internet.
Many of us can relate to the sentiments Schwartz expresses in his article, the compulsive checking emails, and clicking from article to article on the internet. We may even justify these behaviors, that we are reading something and it is entertaining, or informative etc. Schwartz, though, is concerned with the ways it shapes our life, and those of us who are compulsively using the internet have actually developed a sort of addiction to it.
As people we might have a difficult time acknowledging how the internet shatters our focus, as Carr deftly points to in his article. He writes, “[d]azzled by the Net’s treasures, we are blind to the damage we may be doing to our intellectual lives and even our culture.” Because it is often instantaneous, and always available, it is difficult to move out of that space, or that ‘compulsion loop.’ Ultimately, Schwartz commits himself to a detox ritual in order to shift his habit of mind toward a more healthy relationship with the internet.
Schwartz reveals that this was not an easy task. In fact, he did not immediately succeed in his internet detox. Eventually, he reveals that he has “retained [his] longtime ritual of deciding the night before on the most important thing I can accomplish the next morning. [Promising to work] for 60 to 90 minutes without interruption. Afterward, [he takes] a 10- to 15-minute break to quiet [his] mind and renew [his] energy” (Schwartz). This is a deliberate moving away from the allatonceness that the digital humanities often considers a strength. This shift toward technological mindfulness moves the scholar, the professional, the technologically engaged person into a slower paced environment. This new space allows for an active engagement with the digital world, but a more balanced and healthy one. How might we, as educators, incorporate some of Schwartz’s into our course objectives, activities, and teaching philosophies?