Article: Your Brain on Computers

 

“Throughout evolutionary history, a big surprise would get everyone’s brain thinking,” said Clifford Nass, a communications professor at Stanford. “But we’ve got a large and growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can’t ignore it.”
– from NY Times, Your Brain on Computers: Attached to Technology and Paying a Price

I notice this for myself. In periods when I am more on the internet, I find that my attention becomes restless.

Fortunately, as with most other human skills, attention can be trained.

We already train attention, as we notice when we use digital information devices. Here, we train our attention to function over shorter time spans and be more easily distracted.

And we can also train attention to be more stable, and a tool we can use with more awareness and skill.

The simplest form of training attention this way is probably breath practice. Bring attention to your breath, either through the movements of the belly, or the sensations in the nose or at the nostrils. If the attention need extra support, count the breath in cycles of ten. This makes it easier to notice when attention is drawn into stories. If attention is already quite stable, then just bring it to the sensations without counting. And whenever you notice attention goes into stories, gently bring it back to the breath. Even short periods of this practice, for instance just five minutes once or a few times during the day, can have a big effect.

So this may be an additional advantage of our digital information age. We notice its impact on our attention habits, and seek out ways to train attention.

There is a growing body of research documenting the benefits of attention practice, and more and more people are discovering its benefits for themselves, so it may be increasingly common to include brief periods of attention training not only in our personal lives, but also in schools and at workplaces.

We already exercise the body, and train in other skills we use in our lives, so why not also attention?

Note: Another concern some folks have about the digital world is that we become good at information gathering and processing, but miss out on opportunities for – or become impatient with – deep processing and thinking. This blog is a good example of that. I usually write about very simple topics, sometimes focusing on just one word or the relationship between two (f.ex. attention & the digital world), and I write about it in a very simple way – deliberately using simple words and sentences.  I do start blog posts on other and often more interesting topics, but if they are too multi-layered and complex, the post get too multi-layered and complex, and I give it up. It is not suitable for a blog, and more appropriate for a book. Since I rarely talk with people about these topics, they mostly go unexplored for me. So yes, I and this blog are examples of just that. Of the digital world as a forum for mostly quick and simple topics, and not inviting deeper and more comprehensive explorations and processing.

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Initial draft….

I notice my own attention span shortening and my attention fragmenting (more easily drawn to something else) in periods when I am more on the internet.

Fortunately, there is a remedy, and this remedy can c0-exist with use of digital information devices: Stability practice.

As most other human skills, attention can be trained.

It can be trained to function over short time spans and easily be distracted, as we do when we are on the internet.

Or it can be trained to be stable and a tool we can use with more awareness and skill.

The simplest form of training attention this way is probably breath practice. Bring attention to your breath, either through the movements of the belly, or the sensations in the nose or at the nostrils. If the attention need extra support, count the breath in cycles of ten. This makes it easier to notice when attention is drawn into stories. If attention is already quite stable, then just bring it to the sensations without counting. And whenever you notice attention goes into stories, gentle bring it back to the breath. Even short periods of this practice, for instance just five minutes once or a few times during the day, can have a big effect.

So this may be an advantage of our digital information age. We notice its impact on our attention habits, and seek out ways to train attention – as we exercise our body or train any other skills we use in our lives.

……….
……….

I notice this for myself. In periods when I am more on the internet, my attention span shortens and my attention becomes more fragmented. It is more easily pulled elsewhere.

Fortunately, as with most other human skills, attention can be trained.

When we use digital information devices, we train our attention to function over shorter time spans and be more easily distracted.

And we can also train attention to be more stable. Attention can become a tool we can use with more awareness and skill.

The simplest form of training attention this way is probably breath practice. Bring attention to your breath, either through the movements of the belly, or the sensations in the nose or at the nostrils. If the attention need extra support, count the breath in cycles of ten. This makes it easier to notice when attention is drawn into stories. If attention is already quite stable, then just bring it to the sensations without counting. And whenever you notice attention goes into stories, gently bring it back to the breath. Even short periods of this practice, for instance just five minutes once or a few times during the day, can have a big effect.

So this may be an additional advantage of our digital information age. We notice its impact on our attention habits, and seek out ways to train attention.

We already exercise the body, and train in other skills we use in our lives, so why not also attention?

As there is more research documenting the benefits of attention practice, and more people discover its benefits for themselves, it may be more common to include brief periods of attention training in schools and at workplaces.

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