Like buses, synchronicity comes in threes. John Connell recently led me to an article in which Nicholas Carr asks Is Google Making Us Stupid? This Sunday, I came across Brian Appleyard‘s piece in The Times, Stoooopid….why the Google generation isn’t as smart as it thinks. The next concentration-based piece I spotted, in a section called Emily’s News on the site of Scotland’s Centre for Confidence and Well-being, was entitled You may not see it, but TV is affecting children.

The last of these three articles, which deals specifically with very young children, is relatively straightforward. The previous two contain so many variables that it’s difficult to see this debate coming to an end any time soon – but it is surely a very good thing that it is taking place. My own view is that, before worrying too much about difficulty of reading lengthy articles online, a few parameters need to be set. I skim through a great deal on the net, often in the living room with the TV or radio on (sometimes both); my email & feed-reader sit open along with a correspondence-chess website. However, I consider this to be searching as opposed to reading. I would no more sit with my laptop, struggling to read an in-depth piece in a distraction-filled environment, than I would with a book. I’d retire to somewhere quieter, having set aside the time to concentrate. If that weren’t possible, I’d send the url to myself in an email, paste the text into a word processing application, or bookmark the page with del.ici.ous and read it later.

I spend more time online than many people I know and, to the best of my knowledge, my concentration is no worse than before. With books easer to track down, and reviews easier to garner online than off, I probably read more books now than at any time in my life. In school, I teach 52 lessons-per-week and don’t find myself suddenly wondering what I was saying, or who these people are in front of me. However, at 48 years old, my formative years were over long before the internet began to impact on my modus operandi. Has enough time elapsed to tell what effect, if any, has been wrought on young people’s concentration? Currently, they spend as long as I do in class; they sit in silent exam halls for as long as ever; as far as I’m aware, a football match still lasts 90 minutes….

The synchronicity was kept alive when I came to a captivating story this morning entitled The Last Channel by Italo Calvino – from an outstanding collection of stories entitled Numbers In The Dark. Without spoiling this almost Kafkaesque tale, I can reveal that the protagonist allows his habit of channel-hopping with the remote to escalate to monumental proportions. However, even he appears to be searching and not watching. If your brain is not e-addled, you may be up to reading it in parallel text.