Friday, October 26, 2012
Pushing back my acquired attention deficit disorder
I've read a lot of articles lately (or at least I've seen their headlines) lamenting the fragmented way many people now consume information. It seems everyone who is "connected" via social media splinters their time so much that they are unable to do a deep dive on anything, failing to learn something beyond a soundbite of information.
I have personal experience with this problem. A few years ago, I discovered RSS, and began constructing an intimidating list of bloggers and journalists that I wanted to follow. Like everyone else, I was unable to keep up. The number of back-logged readings grew to the point that I was incapable of clicking on my favorite feeds because I knew I could not possibly read through even a small fraction of the hundreds of articles still marked as "unread."
More recently, I created a twitter account and began following three or four hundred astronomers, space program writers, and space enthusiasts. Of course, unless you sit with a Twitter window open and continuously scan these tasty morsels, you're gonna miss something. And when I do follow a link to an interesting bit of longer-form writing, I don't have the time to read it. Off it goes to my Instapaper account, where it sits forever unread (for much the same reason).
There was a time when I blogged. And I mean I really did blog-- my weekly recaps of my lunches with my friend George were long, painstakingly researched, and always fun to return to later. I also blogged about my journey as an archaeology student, and these were sometimes pretty lengthy posts.
What is the state of my writing now? The metaphorical fields of my blogs lie fallow, and all I make time for is tweeting (or re-tweeting) interesting original work by others, much of which I have not read in its entirety (see earlier remarks). Not only am I no longer capable of dedicating time to reading longer works, I'm also unable to dedicate time to creating anything exceeding a sentence in length.
The internet and social media have created attention-deficit symptoms that I never experienced before, a malady I've come to believe might only be cured by a 28-day program that excludes all information sources, save possibly a daily newspaper.
I feel I might also benefit from a similar approach with regard to writing: Allow myself to only create written work that exceeds some arbitrary word count significantly longer than a tweet or a Facebook post. Naturally I want to be clever about it, so I set about picking a number that tied to some familiar idea, and that was very Mama Bear-like in size. The very familiar adage "a picture is worth a thousand words" appealed to me, but 1000 seemed too long... so I decided to name my series of writings "Worth half a picture."
There's no way I can write 500 words every day (certainly not on topics that are interesting to anyone), so these will be a weekly effort. Let's see where it goes.