[Links to items discussed in this post are all gathered at the end, for reasons mentioned in the post itself.]
This week the zeitgeist has delivered to ZiefBrief a lot of musing about how our digital life may be affecting the ways we think. There's this week's front-page New York Times story "Hooked on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price." There are any number of reviews of Nicholas Carr's new book, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains. And there are blog posts and ensuing debates about the practice of "delinkification." (This is putting links at the end of a post or article, rather than embedding them in the text. The aim is to minimize distractions for readers who'd prefer to read the document as a whole. That's what ZiefBrief is trying right now.)
The concern the Times reports on and Carr frets over is that the more we flit from link to link to link, and the more we succumb to the distraction of the latest email message or text or tweet or Facebook update, the less able we are to concentrate on complex ideas for long stretches of times.
If that's so, ZiefBrief is concerned about the lawyers-to-be at USF and other law schools. We observe that at least some law students seem to find it hard to engage in depth with long documents. But despite all the technological changes of the last decades, the law is still embodied in long, difficult texts, and success as a lawyer depends on close, detailed reading, analysis and synthesis of these texts so as to exploit them to craft creative solutions to clients' problems. (Though ZiefBrief is hardly one to talk. We left law and became a librarian in part because we have the attention span of a gnat and would much rather help others find relevant cases than read them ourselves!)
No one wants to lose the benefits of our digital world, but no one seems to know exactly how best to retain our ability to sustain concentration and engage in deep thinking in the face of all of the distractions.
Which brings us at last to the latest version of Apple's Safari browser. If Safari calculates that you are reading an article, a blog post, or other long-ish stretch of prose, it will offer you, via a button in the address bar, the option of invoking the "Reader" function. The Reader function displays the text prominently while minimizing the surrounding graphics, ads, and other chaff.
So, if you invoke the "Reader" function while reading Berghuis v. Thompkins, the Supreme Court's recent decision on how suspects must invoke their right to remain silent, you'll see this:
… instead of this more typical view:
Oddly soothing, we think, and one way to reclaim your attention.
Links for this post:
New York Times: Hooked on Gadgets and Paying a Mental Price
Our Cluttered Minds and Yes, the Internet is rotting your brain: reviews of Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains
Nicholas Carr in his RoughType blog on Experiments in Delinkification
Canadian law blog Slaw on Hypolinking
Laura Miller at Salon on The Hyperlink Wars
Berghuis v. Thompkins courtesy of Justia's Supreme Court center and Oyez.org.
Safari 5.0 is free and is compatible with Macs running Leopard or Snow Leopard, and PCs running Windows XP SP2 or Windows Vista or Windows 7