I came across a long, intriguing article online that I wanted to read carefully. I found that, try as I might, I was unable to put aside the skimming-and-jumping habits that I’ve developed (or that have been implanted in me) for online reading over the years. Many people have written about the internet’s re-working of our attentional habits, its robbing us of our ability to concentrate quietly, steadily and deeply on anything.
In the end I tried an experiment: I printed out the entire article (24 pages of 12 point type), and sat down, pen in hand, to read the printed version. It was an entirely different experience: steady concentration was hardly a problem at all, and I’m confident that I took in things that I would have missed entirely trying to read the same article online.
This may just be me – I know there are plenty of people who read things like Remembrance of Things Past on their Kindle machines, so presumably someone out there can concentrate on a screen. But I learned some useful things about my own mind and its relationship to the online world.