Thursday, May 20, 2010

Project idea: improving my attention span

By now it's a commonplace that the internet whittles your attention span down to the sort of tiny nub that only lets you focus on one thing for about thirty seconds before popping away to check email or RSS or Twitter or what have you. Word among my older MIT friends is that burnout and curricular exasperation can have similar effects. I'm inclined to believe them, having lost all patience with, say, biomechanics. *growl* *ahem* Where was I?

Oh, yes. I've been thinking that, among the other soul-restorative measures I plan to take this summer, I should work on reconstructing my attention span. According to my parents, when I was young I had a wonderful attention span, and could admire a pebble for ten minutes together. I'm not sure how much I believe them, but I do feel like my attention span has decreased dramatically over the past couple of years as I've started to read more and more things on the internet.

So I gave myself a test. I had to read something all the way through without looking at anything else on my computer. I picked the first interesting-looking article out of Give Me Something To Read, which turned out to be an NYTimes article about arranged remarriages in China following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. (Incidentally, the article is very good -- thought-provoking and emotional without being overwrought.) Even though it was interesting, it was surprisingly difficult to get through. My mind kept wandering. Indeed, my mind is still wandering. I've pulled up my chat client once already while writing this blog post, and I keep having the urge to do it again. I'm like Randall Munroe at the typewriter here.

But with summer comes the opportunity to read books again! Do you have any idea how long it's been since I just sat down with a book and plowed more or less straight through the whole thing? I feel like I haven't done that since high school... So, as I pick up books again for the summer, I'll consciously practice keeping my attention on one thing for an extended period of time, and try to avoid get up every five minutes to get food or check my mail. We'll see how well I do, and whether this will translate to an improved studying efficiency in the fall.

1 comment:

  1. I can generally focus on reading a book without trouble (if I don't have other pressures clamoring for my time), although I have your experience with just about everything else. So I'm a bit surprised about your specific example of book-reading, because making my attention span better for that wouldn't help anything else.