How to Unchange a Mind

May 6, 2012

This cartoon made the rounds a while back, but I still strongly identify with its sentiment:


The convergence of all media into one or two devices has had untold effects on the human relationship to information, and certainly has probably had effects on our brains as well.

Philosopher Glenn McLaren proposes in an article in the latest Cosmos and History that the virtual reality of the Internet has made us “hunter and gatherers” in a forest of information, rather than independent, critical and deep thinkers.

As someone grappling with something akin to Internet addiction (okay, let’s just say I am addicted), it spoke quite a bit to my own experience.

After about 2009, I began to lose the ability to apply my attention to any long task when the Internet or other social media were available. On any big project, it has become an absolute necessity to shut off my connectivity to get any work done. Whole days have been lost to aimless wandering of forums, reading of digital newspapers, blogs, and the like. Though I’m a film scholar, I probably spend the least time on YouTube of anybody, preferring instead the back catalog of Film Philosophy or The Forge for my reading to distract me from all the pressing projects on which I need to focus. Nevertheless, pressing issues and deadlines do not impact my consciousness as they used to, convincing me the web has some kind of narcotic effect.

McLaren goes further to state that this shortening of the attention span and the sudden total equivalency of information has had noticeable political consequences, i.e. a certain docility and conformity as subjects no longer need to construct radically individual, deeply conceived opinions of anything to continue to spread their impact on the world.

How do I unchange my mind, so I reach a pre-2009 level of focus, attention and memory, themselves perhaps the most critical items necessary for my political consciousness?

As I move toward the summer, one of my most productive working periods, I caution myself against spending too many time trawling the Internet for novelty, and will consign myself to my stack of books and films I haven’t consumed while my brain drifted through the Internet’s networked isles.

Here’s acknowledgement of the irony that I feel compelled to blog about this topic, and encouragement for anyone to take the same occasional intense hiatuses I do. For intellectual survival, you understand.

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One Response to “How to Unchange a Mind”

  1. Page 28 said

    Oh my hah, I understand, and perhaps just now realize it more so. I definitely have spent far far more time within the last few years on wikipedia rather than actually reading books. It’s not all bad, as I’ve sponged up some wonderful facts and have learned some things I really just needed to learn. But the rapid-fire processing of all this information does seem a bit chaotic, leaving the brain in want for that same speed when not there. Interesting psychology to chew on for me.

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