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You can’t pay attention to anything

Attention is selecting which elements you look at, interact with, and remember. Attention can get tired, like a muscle.

The internet is a very powerful stimulus for attention. It offers information constantly, demanding and overloading a system that was designed to function in the low to medium social networks of the natural world.

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Our mental processes and habits

E-thinking has moved us into habits of grabbing our phones to answer the simplest of questions: finding the map directions to a known address, or calculating the square root of four.

While the verdict is still out if the internet is rewiring and/or dumbing us down, we should consider to what degree the internet is changing how we think.

The burden of task-switching

Trying to protect oneself from boredom and the fear of missing out (FOMO), has caused people to switch from tab to tab, or screen to screen on the desktop. 

People switch between content on computers every 19 seconds, viewing the content for less than a minute. Multitasking this way breaks concentration. You lose time with this and context-switching and deplete your available mental energy.

This is not a fight against the internet, but a fight against a society that is obsessed with speed and productivity made possible by the internet. You can practice resistance. 

  • Close some of your tabs. 
  • Shut off your notifications. 
  • Don't answer an email for a few days. 
  • Stop listening to podcasts at 1.5x-speed.
  • Take time for silence and introspection.

Your brain network, associated with creativity and imagination, becomes active when your task-oriented networks are shut off. You might become more productive as a result.

Your memory comes in a variety of subtypes: 

  • Episodic memory: remembering events that happened, such as your wedding day.
  • Semantic memory: remembering facts like the sky is blue, or where you went to school.
  • Procedural memory: remembering how to drive your car.
  • Transactive memory: knowing where to find information. This memory is behind most of the advances in human society.
Storing information
Google might be altering the entire nature of your memory for facts. Now that all information is searchable on our phones, it stands to reason our brains might convert semantic memories, all those useless facts, to transactive ones.

Storing information, when it is filed in transactive memory, makes it disastrous for remembering later. You may have a disjointed set of thoughts that you have trouble remembering and using. 

Our brains are organized through networks of related concepts, stories, or the overall perception of a topic. When you learn a new fact, it gets embedded in a nest of everything else you know. The tighter the connections, the better you will remember and recall the information.

If you want to remember facts better, create a little contextual nest for your new fact to live in: Read some background. Consider what you've just read. Think about the terms you already know. Write it down or draw little images.

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