How the Web Changes Your Brain and Hurts Your Life

by John Soares on August 20, 2012

As a freelance writer and a human being, productivity and happiness are top priorities for me, and I was already aware of the negative effects of the Internet on my own cognitive processes and ability to feel fully alive when I read The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains in the summer of 2010.

But The Shallows crystallized my thinking and convinced me to spend a lot less time “plugged in.”

Nicholas Carr's The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our BrainsNicholas Carr’s book, a 2010 New York Times bestseller and a finalist for the 2011 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, details the many scientific studies that show how the near constant bombardment of our brains by information from electronic media is literally changing the structure of our brains and altering our lives – and not for the better.

As a freelance writer for higher education companies, I need to concentrate for long periods of time. But it’s gotten harder over the last decade, harder at the same time I spend more of my life on the Internet for work projects and what I’ve chosen to do online, like write this blog and my other blogs, have an active Twitter account, interact with friends on Facebook, read the news, follow a few stocks… the list goes on and on.

I often compare myself over the last few years with how I was in graduate school getting my master’s in polisci from 1987-1989. Granted I was younger then and highly motivated to succeed, but I was able to concentrate so much better 25 years ago than I can now.

A Question for You

If you remember a time before the Internet and cell phones, compare your ability to concentrate then with how well you concentrate now.

Well? Read on…

Key Points for Freelance Writers… And Everyone Else

These are excerpts from notes I took on the book. I use the term Web broadly. It includes anything that connects you electronically to remote sources of information or stimulation, primarily the Internet itself and cell phone technology, whether it’s a laptop, a tablet, or a cell phone/smart phone. I use “we” and “us” primarily to refer to people who spend too much time on the Web and don’t focus on what they specifically need to get from it before getting off as quickly as possible.

1. When we are on the Web, we keep searching for new information to entertain us, to stimulate us – we keep clicking links and watching and listening. We set up e-mail alerts and obsessively check social media and other sites frequently, wanting to get that interesting tidbit as soon as possible. Often this becomes addictive behavior.

2. Using the Web decreases our ability to concentrate deeply for long periods of time. It instead trains us to want new stimuli all the time, making it difficult to focus for more than a few minutes. This is “the shallows.”

3. Web time decreases our ability to think deeply about an idea or a concept. Our brains can’t concentrate for more than a few minutes.

4. The Web physically alters our brain structure, affecting areas that deal with cognitive thinking and long-term memory storage. We can’t think as deeply, and we can’t remember very well what we were thinking about anyway.

5. The more time we spend on the Web, the more we train our brains to deal with information quickly and with little or no attention to wider connections. The result is that very little of this information makes it out of our “working memory” and into our long-term memory.

6. High levels of Web time decreases our ability to empathize with other people. Our connections with our friends and love ones weaken, and we miss out on a crucial emotion that binds us together and makes us human.

7. Computers and the Internet allow us to perform certain cognitive functions far more efficiently, but we make a Faustian bargain for those gains, and most people are not aware of exactly what they are trading away.

Conclusions

Nicholas Carr is a freelance writer like I am, and like many of you are. Freelance writers mostly work alone and can much more easily disconnect from the Internet, or cut connection time way back. Other people have jobs or lives that require them to be more connected.

Even so, no matter who you are, I hope you’ll examine how you use the Internet, and cell phones, and tablet computers, and all the other forms of technology that encourage your brain to be in a “shallow” state.

And I hope that you’ll discuss these ideas with your loved ones, particularly your kids and grandkids – they are the ones who really need to be at the top of their game if they are to deal effectively with the many challenges the future holds.

And think about what life truly means for you. Does your time on the Web make you feel more alive? Or less?

Read The Shallows – and give it your full attention.

Your Take

Thoughts? Suggestions? Please share them in the comments below…

Like this post? Then please help me out and share it on Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and elsewhere. And don't miss any Productive Writers posts: Subscribe in the box near the top of the right column.

    { 61 comments… read them below or add one }

    1 Arjen ter Hoeve August 20, 2012 at 4:30 AM

    Twitter: @summap

    Hi John,

    I believe the Internet offers amazing opportunities to all of us. You can almost not remember that you actually had to go to the library to learn about a topic (compared with just doing a mobile search for it and instantly ‘knowing’ it.).

    While this may be good, I believe we are much less focused on what we do and when we do it. You really have to learn how to deal with distractions these days. When you can master that, all is well again :)

    So does the Web make me feel more alive? Not really, it does feel like I am lived more than before.
    Arjen ter Hoeve recently posted…The Most Important Mind Map Program For Mac List

    Reply

    2 John Soares August 20, 2012 at 6:31 AM

    Arjen, the problem is that too many people don’t master the distractions of the Internet. They jump from site to site to site while their cognitive abilities deteriorate and their precious time drains away.
    John Soares recently posted…How This One Simple Technique Boosts My Morning Productivity

    Reply

    3 Arjen te rHoeve August 20, 2012 at 7:29 AM

    Twitter: @summap

    That’s true. How many people experience they ‘only’ want to go online for a single thing and end up waking up hours later after watching videos of funny pets :)

    People who grew up using the Internet are less able to focus. I think it will be very interesting to see what this will do in 5 to 10 years.
    Arjen te rHoeve recently posted…The Mind Map Problem To Solution Road Map

    Reply

    4 John Soares August 20, 2012 at 7:54 AM

    There’s already quality research, as discussed in The Shallows and in more recent work reported in scholarly journals, but it likely will take a few more years and much more research to really know what’s been happening to our brains.
    John Soares recently posted…Simplicity and the Successful Freelancer

    Reply

    5 Mentor Palokaj August 22, 2012 at 3:16 AM

    Twitter: @Skill_Collector

    What fascinates me most is how this affects children. John, you mention how many people don’t master the distractions (and in the article you refer to the time before all this), but what about the people who grow up with this?

    A while back I heard that a lot of adults are starting to present ADHD like symptoms because of information overload. At the same time kids are getting used to being bombarded with information. I think that the way in which we were taught to deal with information kids now need to be taught how to deal with information as well as dealing with a lack of information (you mentioned the addictive quality of information…)
    Mentor Palokaj recently posted…Speed Reading – Double your Reading Speed (or more)

    Reply

    6 Clinton Wu August 26, 2012 at 7:46 AM

    Twitter: @ClintonWu

    John, you mention two interesting points in your reply to Arjen. The jumping from site to site or task to task, called context switching, is one of the biggest productivity drains because your brain has to constantly try to refocus. This is why we need technology tools and platforms that encourage us to batch tasks, such as email and browsing, into scheduled and timed session each day.

    This leads to your comment on mastering the distractions of the Internet. Most people cannot do this on sheer self-control and will-power. The distractions that are out there neurologically induce compulsive behavior. People like ex-venture capitalist Bill Davidow, Nir Eyal, and others write about this neurological loop created to seek infinitely variables rewards on the Internet. You also mention this in your comment below to Cathy.

    It’s a tough cycle to break and one that I fall into myself. I do many of the routine habitual things on the Internet that you mention. Without some sort of assistance or user experience that encourages users to consciously consume (instead of constantly consume) than consciously turn-off, it is very hard to really be productive on meaningful tasks.

    For this reason, I’ve been working on a platform called Skim.Me to make your daily browsing routine more productive and efficient. We want to be part of the new trend of startups that aren’t focused on getting you addicted to our platform to increase pageviews and time spent online. We want to get you through what you normally do on the web in less time so you can get offline. Really flipping the current web model on its head. Maybe this will help bring us one step closer to full attention.

    Reply

    7 John Soares September 4, 2012 at 10:57 AM

    Clinton, thank you for this insightful comment.

    The “context switching” = jumping from task to task, is something that really drains my mental energy, and that’s why I try to avoid it by focusing on just one task for a set period of time, or until it is complete.

    Skim.me sounds like an interesting concept. I signed up for an invite.
    John Soares recently posted…How This One Simple Technique Boosts My Morning Productivity

    Reply

    8 Cathy Miller August 20, 2012 at 6:01 AM

    Twitter: @millercathy

    Hi, John. I am a strong proponent for communication. On the surface, the web offers increased communication. But, are we really connecting?

    We use email when we could pick up the phone (or even get up and talk to a person in the office setting) or Facebook to “speak” to a spouse.

    I, too, love the instant access to information, but too often, what’s written is taken as fact and we don’t question what we should.

    Thinking about it makes me want to go take a walk. I’m off for my daily jaunt. :-) Thank you for an interesting discussion, John.
    Cathy Miller recently posted…Is Your Hard Drive a Hoarder’s Paradise?

    Reply

    9 John Soares August 20, 2012 at 6:40 AM

    Part of the problem with using the web so much is the near constant need for communication from other people and from web sites. We get addicted to the ding that tells us we have a new e-mail, or a new message.

    Enjoy your walk! I saw that the thunderstorms that recently passed over Oregon and northern California were headed to Idaho.
    John Soares recently posted…The Four Key Benefits of Writing Well

    Reply

    10 Cathy Miller August 20, 2012 at 6:52 AM

    Twitter: @millercathy

    Heading out the door. Thanks, John. The worst part has been the air quality from all the fires. Finally, clearing up, but would welcome some good ol’ rain to clean out the valley.
    Cathy Miller recently posted…Is Your Hard Drive a Hoarder’s Paradise?

    Reply

    11 Michael Kauffmann August 20, 2012 at 7:53 AM

    Twitter: @mkauffmann

    John- Interesting discussion and something I often struggle with and always try to regulate–the internet is a powerful tool. I really enjoyed the way Frontline presented these ideas and some of the research they cited in the Digital Nation episode:
    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/
    Michael Kauffmann recently posted…My side of a mountain

    Reply

    12 John Soares August 20, 2012 at 7:57 AM

    Thanks Michael. Frontline typically does good work. I’ll watch the video soon.
    John Soares recently posted…What Freelance Writers Must Know About Inbound Marketing

    Reply

    13 Steeny Lou August 20, 2012 at 8:00 AM

    I’ve added “The Shallows” to my notes (on an actual paper notebook, by the way) and will look for it at the library (an actual paper copy, by the way).

    Based on the bit I know about “The Shallows”, from what you say about it and from what I read in the Amazon blurb, I wonder, does it have any suggestions as to how to counter the negative effects of too much web (other than “just say no to too much internet”)?
    Steeny Lou recently posted…Abusive Bell Customer Service Rep

    Reply

    14 John Soares August 20, 2012 at 10:47 AM

    Steeny, I’ll have much more to say about this in a future post.

    Whenever I go online, I try to set clear objectives for what I’m doing, and I try to ensure that those are truly useful objectives.
    John Soares recently posted…My New Freelance Writer Business Card

    Reply

    15 Anne Wayman August 20, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    Twitter: @annewayman

    sigh… suspect much of this is more or less true but I’m still convinced that television, which leaves us sitting static and stunned – watch what happens in a bar when the tv goes on – is much much worse.

    I find kids today, many of them, to be more aware and more willing to connect, less shy, etc. than I ever was at that age.

    Are there problems with the web? You betcha! But… just saying…

    Reply

    16 John Soares August 20, 2012 at 10:45 AM

    Television is also detrimental, especially when watched for long periods.

    But the Internet and smart phones are different. For many people there’s that constant pull to see what’s new on Facebook, if someone responded to a Tweet, to see if there’s a new e-mail.
    John Soares recently posted…Are Freelance Writers Introverts?

    Reply

    17 Arjen te rHoeve August 21, 2012 at 1:42 AM

    Twitter: @summap

    I learned that it is not good for the development of concentration later on when babies and toddlers watch television. It has something to do with being stimulated a lot when watching tv. Then, when in school, the teacher isn’t as stimulating (probably) and children are distracted easily.

    And what is wrong with playing with your children or giving them toys to play with anyway? No need to put them in front of the television for hours, right?
    Arjen te rHoeve recently posted…The Mind Map Problem To Solution Road Map

    Reply

    18 John Soares August 21, 2012 at 8:36 AM

    I’ve also read research about the negative effects of television on toddlers and young children.

    I think most parents plop kids in front of the TV because the parents need a break or have other things they need to do. Many young children aren’t content to play with toys by themselves. They want someone playing with them.
    John Soares recently posted…The Four Key Benefits of Writing Well

    Reply

    19 Michael A. Lewis, PhD August 20, 2012 at 8:50 AM

    Twitter: @Hayduke2000

    I disagree that this is a universal phenomenon.

    I am 63 years old and I have worked with computers for over 40 years, all the while working in scientific fields that require periods of intense research and concentration. I still do research, and I use the Internet for basic research and communications. I also use academic libraries, professional journals and my own extensive personal library. I spend several hours each day reading for research and pleasure.

    The effects on concentration described in the above article are not solely the result of the use of the Internet, but reflect general societal trends away from basic literacy, critical thinking, science knowledge, and understanding of scientific methods. As an educator, I witnessed these changes become evident in college freshmen students, who came to university ill equipped for college level courses. Critical thinking, research methods and basic literacy are no longer taught in US secondary schools, and this lack tumbles through society today.

    Yes, inappropriate use of the Internet exacerbates this trend, but this is not the cause.
    Michael A. Lewis, PhD recently posted…I Am Not a Writer!

    Reply

    20 John Soares August 20, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    Michael, you are absolutely right this is not a universal phenomenon, and I realize I painted with broad brush strokes in my post.

    People who are mindful about their Internet use and go on it to get specific and relevant information are not going to suffer the effects described above. However, large numbers of people, including many, many that I know, do have problems.

    I haven’t taught college for nearly 20 years, but I can only imagine that it is far more difficult now with all the added distractions students have from the Web, along with the overall lack of preparedness and thinking skills you mentioned.
    John Soares recently posted…How This One Simple Technique Boosts My Morning Productivity

    Reply

    21 Derek Maak August 20, 2012 at 10:35 AM

    Twitter: @DerekMaak

    Hey John,

    I’ve definitely noticed a decrease in my ability to concentrate. I thought it was just because I was getting older, but it does seem to coincide with when I started spending a lot more time online.

    It turns into a fine balancing act, but as technology continues to infiltrate every aspect of our lives it’s difficult to get away from it. That’s what I have weekend fly fishing trips back in the boonies for. :)
    Derek Maak recently posted…Text Your Ex Back Review • Does Michael Fiore’s PDF Work?

    Reply

    22 John Soares August 20, 2012 at 10:42 AM

    Derek, getting away from technology is good medicine. I usually spend at least one day a week totally unplugged from the Internet, television, etc.

    My favorite method is to go hiking, preferably for multiple days.
    John Soares recently posted…What You Must Know to Find What You Need With Google

    Reply

    23 Lindsay Woolman August 20, 2012 at 11:11 AM

    Hi John,

    Wow, I was just thinking about this subject yesterday so I have to comment. I am trying to make Sundays my day when I don’t turn on the computer or go online with my phone. Yesterday was my first day and it was HARD! But by the evening I have to say my head felt clear, I had some wonderful conversations with friends, and I feel sharper today. Definitely want to make it a habit.

    Great post and thoughts.
    Lindsay

    Reply

    24 John Soares August 20, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Good for you Lindsay!

    It will be hard initially, but I bet over time you’ll come to treasure those days away from the Internet and your cell phone.

    Try to add a second day, or an afternoon and evening during the work week.
    John Soares recently posted…Simplicity and the Successful Freelancer

    Reply

    25 Bri August 20, 2012 at 4:57 PM

    Hi John,

    Thanks for the interesting post — I’ll have to pick up the book from the library.

    I have certainly felt the effects of too much time on the internet over the past several years, even though my time was spent in “research.” Over the past year I have been upset to realize that my critical thinking skills have decreased substantially as well as my ability to write clearly, which obviously makes it difficult to start freelancing!

    The problem is this: I think that I need to spend a lot of time online to get a jump start on freelancing, even though I know the clarity of my thoughts are declining. Balancing this is proving to be one of my greatest difficulties.

    Reply

    26 John Soares August 21, 2012 at 8:39 AM

    Bri, the key is to be very focused when you are online. Be clear on exactly what you need to do and why you need to do it. Get it done, and then get offline.

    And the book is available at most libraries, or you can get it through inter-library loan.
    John Soares recently posted…What Freelance Writers Must Know About Inbound Marketing

    Reply

    27 Michael A. Lewis, PhD August 21, 2012 at 9:12 AM

    Twitter: @Hayduke2000

    Unfortunately, many libraries no longer have interlibrary loan programs, due to budget restrictions caused by funding reductions, inflated salaries and benefits for municipal employees.

    Those of us who have chosen a lower standard of living cannot buy books at current prices. We haunt the remainders shelves, used book stores and yard sales, looking for that special volume.
    Michael A. Lewis, PhD recently posted…I Am Not a Writer!

    Reply

    28 Gene Burnett August 21, 2012 at 1:24 AM

    I actually spend a decent amount of my internet time writing and/or generating content, blog posts, facebook, videos, etc…So it’s actually helped my concentration because I take writing seriously and work to say exactly what I want to say. I also love not having a cell phone, smart phone or pad. Whenever I leave the house I am off-line and I really like that a lot. I will never have a mobile computing platform. I like having a distinct break from being on-line. I have noticed this lack of focus in other people though. I very rarely see anyone under 30 do anything for more than 10 minutes without checking their phones. It’s like reaching for a cigarette…a little anxiety alleviation, that creates the next round of anxiety. I don’t blame the web at large so much as how we use it, particularly these smart phones. Once people could be on-line constantly without a break…that’s when focus really started to deteriorate. One reason kids can’t concentrate in school is that they all have phones. My sister is a college professor and she docks her kids one quiz worth of points from their grades if they text in class and they still do it. I don’t know if it qualifies as a full blown addiction, but it is a dependency and a habit. And I have witnessed a few people who lost or forgot their phones when they left the house and well, they do seem to be going through a kind of withdrawn where they really freak out. To me the key is balance. We are adapted to live in the physical world and if you spend more time in the virtual world than the physical world, your health will deteriorate. There’s already a condition called “text neck” that comes from too much stooping when texting. To which I say, Good. That’s our bodies speaking to us: Look up from the frickin’ phone and be where you actually are.

    Reply

    29 John Soares August 21, 2012 at 9:18 AM

    Gene, I agree that smart phones are a major problem. Besides the fact that typical users are more likely to get killed because they aren’t paying attention to what’s going on around them, the smart phone chips away at concentration and the ability to just be where you are right now.
    John Soares recently posted…What You Must Know to Find What You Need With Google

    Reply

    30 John Soares August 21, 2012 at 9:20 AM

    And good for your sister the college prof.

    I haven’t taught college since 1994, but I would sure hate to have to compete with smart phones during lecture and have to deal overall with students who are distracted and can’t concentrate well.
    John Soares recently posted…My New Freelance Writer Business Card

    Reply

    31 Elena Anne August 21, 2012 at 2:48 AM

    Twitter: @Elena__Anne

    Very interesting post. I think all this online interaction, social media, use of the internet is worrying. It puts you in touch with everyone but yourself.
    Elena Anne recently posted…Dark Under-Eye Circles

    Reply

    32 Keisha Richardson August 22, 2012 at 6:09 AM

    That is very true. The whole internet thing turns into an obsession. You always want to access the internet every minute. I am trying to reduce as much as possible the time I spend on the internet.

    Reply

    33 Gene Burnett August 21, 2012 at 3:22 AM

    Elena, I have a song called “Quit That Job” that expresses a similar sentiment. Here’s a verse:

    You come home brain dead—You just wanna watch TV
    But you are more alive when you are fast asleep
    Headphones, hand-helds and virtual gear
    They can take you anywhere…anywhere but here
    Quit that job…

    The net does have its limitations and Lord knows I like to point them out. But I still think that it’s how we use it that makes the most difference. It doesn’t have to be used to avoid interaction, depth and presence. It takes some strength and some practice but it is possible to see the net as a tool and to use it for the things it does well, and not for the things it doesn’t do well. The way I look at it, no one can take my autonomy away from me. I either keep it or I give it away. No one is forcing me to watch TV or surf the web or use social media. Even if the net seems like a soul-sucking monster sometimes, I take responsibility for my choices and the results they give me, because it’s those results, like the ones John is asking about in this post that help me figure out what the net can do and what it can’t do.

    Reply

    34 Lori August 21, 2012 at 6:10 AM

    Twitter: @LoriWidmer

    John, how bad is it that I couldn’t concentrate on this post? Not your writing at all — my ADD brain on three cups of caffeine.

    I see the changes in me since just December even. That’s when I got a smart phone. I’m now one of those “connected” people, though I consciously fight daily to remove myself from the screen. I don’t want to be one of THOSE people who are with others yet not really there.

    I was trying to think back to when I was freelancing prior to the Internet. I had the latest gadget – a word processor – which seemed to make my life so much easier. But I found sources via library magazines and periodicals. I used the phone a lot more to get in touch with people, and even a few articles were written from face-to-face conversations. Things were more localized, as was my career.

    Now my concentration is gone. Often I’ll drop off in mid thought. Why, this post is the longest I’ve written in a wh

    Reply

    35 John Soares August 21, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    I think smart phones are a major reason why so many people are in “the shallows.” With the smart phone you’re never away from the Internet and text messages and everything else.

    I’ve seen young couples on dates, both sitting at the table in a nice restaurant fiddling with their phones. Not a good foundation for a quality relationship.
    John Soares recently posted…The Four Key Benefits of Writing Well

    Reply

    36 Michael A. Lewis, PhD August 21, 2012 at 9:15 AM

    Twitter: @Hayduke2000

    Cell phones are the most socially destructive devices invented by man(un)kind. I’ve never used a cell phone, never will.
    Michael A. Lewis, PhD recently posted…I Am Not a Writer!

    Reply

    37 John Soares August 21, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    Michael, I agree with you about smart phones, and to a large degree about cell phones.

    I do own a Trac Fone, and I use it primarily when I’m traveling to make arrangements to see people, or to stay in touch with important people in my life.
    John Soares recently posted…Simplicity and the Successful Freelancer

    Reply

    38 Gene Burnett August 21, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    Or for the guy playing music for them in that nice restaurant (me)!

    Reply

    39 Gene Burnett August 21, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    And those Trac phones have a nickname: crack phones. Because so many drug dealers use them (not traceable like a regular cell).

    Reply

    40 John Soares August 21, 2012 at 9:28 AM

    I didn’t know about “crack phone” aspect of it.

    The company has my name and address, and financial info.
    John Soares recently posted…Simplicity and the Successful Freelancer

    Reply

    41 Joel August 21, 2012 at 9:14 AM

    Twitter: @webaddict

    This posts is a good wake-up call and definitely makes you think about what could be changing concentration levels. I can’t say I can concentrate on things as closely or as detailed as I use to Okay, back, but I’m not entirely positive if it has effected my life in a negative way or not. I still find myself more connected and less connected all at the same time. I will check out the reading list you mentioned, sounds like a good deep dive into the issue. Off to check my notifications on my phone… :D

    Reply

    42 Steeny Lou August 21, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    I got my first “smart phone” in the past half year. For the first month, I was using it a lot, getting used to it, but the data plan is so expensive (well, for ME $65 a month is too much, especially when I can just use the internet at home on my computer when need be), I opted for a more basic plan and mainly use it for necessary phone calls and the odd Google search or message.

    Texting frustrates the heck out of me. My phone has a touch screen and I’m forever keying in the wrong letters. It’s way too slow of a process for me, who types 100+ words per minute doing medical transcription. I will only text if I have to.

    I guess if I were a teenager or someone else with little to no responsibilities in life, texting and using my phone as a computer might hold some appeal, but as that’s not me, I find it to be a waste of time and money.
    Steeny Lou recently posted…Followup: Abusive Bell Customer Service Rep

    Reply

    43 John Soares August 21, 2012 at 9:31 AM

    I’ve only texted a few times. It can be a useful way to quickly get someone needed information, but I also find it inefficient and frustrating.
    John Soares recently posted…Are Freelance Writers Introverts?

    Reply

    44 Gene Burnett August 21, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    Micheal, love the term “socially destructive”! I will use it! Well put.

    Reply

    45 Janice Leagra August 22, 2012 at 7:08 AM

    Twitter: @JaniceLeagra

    John, I enjoyed this post. I have been struggling a lot lately with feeling overconnected. I certainly have trouble focusing and concentrating more than I used to.

    I am new to the field of freelancing and get a lot of mixed advice about social media marketing, the need to build my brand, the need to develop a platform or following vs. the need to stay offline and just write, etc. It can be very overwhelming. My blog is new and I’m sure I’m not spending the time on it I “should” be, but it’s not making me money, which unfortunately needs to happen. It’s something I do for fun and to build my brand, as I’ve been advised to do at writing conferences and by respected professionals in the field. I kind of resent this feeling of needing to stretch myself in all of these directions online, when all I really want to do is write. It’s a necessary evil though, right?

    In the end, it’s about balance, which I know is what you’re driving at, but for me it’s a difficult balance to maintain as I strive to gain traction in the field.

    Reply

    46 John Soares August 25, 2012 at 5:15 PM

    It really is about balance Janice.

    I think newer freelance writers should have a basic website to showcase their work and let editors know what they do. Beyond that, marketing directly to companies and editors should be the top priority.

    Too many people spend too much time fooling around with social media and writing blog posts when they should be spending most of their available time marketing to quality prospects.
    John Soares recently posted…Are Freelance Writers Introverts?

    Reply

    47 Gambolin' Man August 23, 2012 at 7:47 PM

    Thanks for drivin’ home the point, John! As you can see, I am not addicted or fanatic, else I would have chimed in long ago! The only thing I can say for sure is, I’m so, so glad I grew up in the pre-Internet days of the 60s, 70s and 80s – even early 90s – before we could ever imagine the “socially destructive” path down which we ventured when we bought into the chimera of communication and swallowed the “Silicon Snake Oil”. . .

    Reply

    48 John Soares September 4, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    Tom, it will be interesting to see the results of studies that will be conducted in the next few years on kids that grew up with very frequent connection to the Internet and cell phones.

    I’m grateful I grew up in the 60s and 70s without all the distractions. I hardly even watched TV. I read books and spent a lot of time outside exploring the natural world.
    John Soares recently posted…Simplicity and the Successful Freelancer

    Reply

    49 Born27 August 27, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    People who are mindful about their Internet use and go on it to get specific and relevant information are not going to suffer the effects described above.

    Reply

    50 Gilian Marcus August 31, 2012 at 4:52 AM

    It’s very important to take sometime off from the internet, for instance a day off won’t hurt. You can use that day to capitalize on other things like working out or bonding with your offline friends. I do that myself.

    Reply

    51 John Soares September 12, 2012 at 5:57 AM

    I shoot for at least one Internet-free day a week.
    John Soares recently posted…The Freelance Writing Project Hiding in Your Spam Folder

    Reply

    52 Michael September 3, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    Twitter: @refinedwriter

    I agree with all of the above comments. It seems as though we freelancers are all struggling to maintain a sense of focus when our primary vehicle for communication is the computer, which just happens to be the means to access the internet. This portal to the world can be used for serious research or for mind-numbing, time-sucking habits.

    I think it’s all a matter of discipline. We can only blame ourselves if we can’t stop surfing the internet when we should be working!

    Reply

    53 John Soares September 4, 2012 at 11:22 AM

    Michael, you point out a major problem for freelance writers. We write on the computer and the Internet is just a click away. It’s so easy to decide to check e-mail, or Facebook, or any one of a million sites out there.
    John Soares recently posted…My New Freelance Writer Business Card

    Reply

    54 Adrian September 4, 2012 at 7:44 AM

    Hi.. John, I believe that the easy availability of the information and resources on internet has made us impatient and less concentrated! For example in High School I used to wander in Library for a book about a particular topic and that used to make me search with patience and every activity used to make my concentration on active level , but now the luxurious life with everything online has made us impatient at some extent to all of us!

    Reply

    55 Steeny Lou September 4, 2012 at 10:41 AM

    Mention by Adrian about looking diligently for a book at the library reminds me of how I have always been in libraries — and I’m just as easily distracted in those as I am on the internet!

    Oh, yes, I remember even as a young child, walking down the aisle to find a Nancy Drew or Hardy Boys book I’d not yet read, and being distracted by Dr. Seuss or Charles M. Schulz on the way.

    It’s gotten to the point that whenever I go to the library, I — seriously, no exaggeration — have to look up at the ceiling or down at the floor after I’ve found the book(s) for which I’d been looking, lest I see more that grab my eye and turn into a huge pile to haul home only to sit on a shelf for three weeks without sufficient time to be read by me.

    Thank you for this interesting topic, John, which has made me look inwardly to how very distractible I have been for a lifetime! I do wonder if having multiple interests like this isn’t such a bad things for communicators and writers, though.
    Steeny Lou recently posted…Followup: Abusive Bell Customer Service Rep

    Reply

    56 John Soares September 4, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Steeny, I’ve been spending a lot more time in the library since I moved to Ashland, Oregon. I do some work there and I also check out a lot of books.

    Yes, all those books on the shelves can be distracting, but sometimes I let it be a welcome distraction. I like looking at the new releases in nonfiction; sometimes I find something very interesting to read.
    John Soares recently posted…What Freelance Writers Must Know About Inbound Marketing

    Reply

    57 Brankas September 7, 2012 at 7:39 AM

    Twitter: @otista109

    I work in web marketing by day…and night, actually. We focus on keeping eyes on our pages, tapping into short attention spans and designing pages to keep focus on the page.

    Doing this all day has definitely shortened my attention span (you notice it when you try to read a book!) so I’m going back to basics. Scheduling more drawing-time, non-computer writing time, and exercise. I will cure the monkey-brain yet!

    And as a start I read every single word of your article. Love the suggestions at the end
    Brankas recently posted…Cara Memilih Furniture Kantor Yang Tepat

    Reply

    58 John Soares September 7, 2012 at 8:04 AM

    I’m glad you’re taking more time away from the computer. I’m also glad you read this entire post!
    John Soares recently posted…Simplicity and the Successful Freelancer

    Reply

    59 Andy D. September 12, 2012 at 3:04 AM

    I understand completely. I always have about 15 windows or programs going. Sometimes I’m doing a design in illustrator, with my pen tablet in my lap, spotify going, facebook comments making noises at me, five seperate notepads open with untitled html codes I have forgoten about, huffpost, yahoo, t.v going in the background, cellphone ringing, cats attacking, knees hurting, oh it’s a mess. I’de trade it all to be living in a humble little apartment in France with a winerack instead of a computer, writing novels by typewriter. This absurd circus I’m living in now is (and has always been) just the means for me to achieve such a simple existance (turns out simple costs money).
    Andy D. recently posted…Lucifer, Issue # 3

    Reply

    60 John Soares September 12, 2012 at 5:56 AM

    Andy, you can choose to turn off all of these distractions and focus on just one thing at a time, whatever is most important in the moment.

    I also sometimes miss the simpler life of decades past, and France would be a great place to live it.
    John Soares recently posted…The Freelance Writing Project Hiding in Your Spam Folder

    Reply

    61 Greg February 13, 2014 at 5:35 AM

    Hi John,

    I’d love to pick up the book. I’m definitely interested…

    Right off the bat (and without having read the book), I’m not sure I agree that the internet shortens attention spans. I think you still have a choice about it. You can ‘surf’ or you can focus on something. I think it depends on what you’re equipped with concentration-wise to begin with. For example, I’m a lifelong reader of books. I think that has more to do with my ability to pay attention than exposure to the internet. I also agree A LOT with what Anne said about TV being worse. At least with the internet, you’re involved in choosing your mindless entertainment. But I should look at that book.. ahem, I mean read it.

    But a funny side note is that I realized since I started listening to music digitally, I can’t get through a song anymore. Maybe that’s the same thing. It’s so easy to click to the next song or program out ones you don’t like. You buy a CD and only listen to the songs you like, ignoring the rest. I noticed this and went back to listening to record sides – about 20 minutes – and that’s been super fulfilling.

    Reply

    Leave a Comment

    CommentLuv badge

    { 1 trackback }

    Previous post:

    Next post:

    Google