I've been engrossed in a developing conversation around net distraction. The dust up was kicked off by Nick Carr in a column for The Atlantic. Whether Google is making us stupid or not, this is an important subject matter to ponder.
I could find the most important reason why in an article on Times Online by Bryan Appleyard:
"[...] people in chronically distracted jobs are, in early middle age, appearing with the same symptoms of burn-out as air traffic controllers. They might have stress-related diseases, even irreversible brain damage.
But the damage is not caused by overwork, it’s caused by multiple distracted work. One American study found that interruptions take up 2.1 hours of the average knowledge worker’s day. This, it was estimated, cost the US economy $588 billion a year. Yet the rabidly multitasking distractee is seen as some kind of social and economic ideal. [...]"
Multiple distracted work - interruptions. I could think of a few examples of interruptions that arrest my train of thought:
- An ad jumping up and down the page or opening up before I can get to the content I want to read. Marketing to me is in fact much more effective when it comes from a trusted source. I have done away with buying into unsolicited anything years ago.
- A person who is so eager to insert their comeback or agenda into the conversation that their response and part of the dialogue turns out to be a non sequitur. Communication among friends does have some of that embedded - we are both eager to talk about what's on our mind. It works because we have a baseline, we already know each other and have part of the information.
- A project that has no impact or bearing on customers and may well end up being a distraction. There's a lot of busy work that interferes with real work still. We thought technology was going to make us more efficient. Little we knew about the monster that PowerPoint would become! That, of course, is but a cheeky example.
What are your main interruptions? Are they good for business?
As to whether conversations online are true discourse or just opinion, you could evaluate your level of investment to figure it out. Do you have a vested interest in a specific outcome, or is talking going to change lives? In other words, is the outcome of this conversation going to solve a problem, or is it just a way to tally comments and participants?
There is quite a passionate online conversation at the Britannica Blog. Among the participants are Clay Shirky, Nick Carr, Larry Sanger, and Kevin Kelly. The discussion took a wide turn on literary education. I am biased towards an education in Liberal Arts.