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Kinds of Focus (andrewbadr.com)
50 points by bdr 1849 days ago | hide | past | web | 17 comments | favorite

[Reading articles online is] a shallow kind of learning.

I couldn't agree more, and often wonder if we've even begun to work out the implications of this.

I also agree, and I'm also troubled by how addicted I've become to shallowly browsing dozens of such articles a day. I find that it's getting harder and harder for me to concentrate on something like a lengthy book for long periods of time, something I used to do frequently. But it's ironic that the author of that article is himself writing articles in his blog for people to read online - articles that contain some interesting opinions but have no particularly deep content.

Working on it...

Yes but one should not leave it out altogether. There is always a tradeoff between exploration and exploitation. One needs to explore around for ideas but not forget to dig deep into the task at hand (or whatever it is).

If one has read Richard Hamming's "You and your research", this is what he refers to by advising one to keep his/her door open while working.

Excuse my irritability, but no one here needs to hear that "one should not leave [the internet] out altogether".

And this is obviously not what Hamming was talking about in 1986.

Just to make it clear, I was agreeing with you for the most part, except that I decided to add my own viewpoint. If that offends you, sorry about that.

I'm not offended personally and hope you feel the same. Let me try to explain what my issue is. I object to the cheap argument for "balance" that commonly shows up when someone is making a specific point. "By all means, let's acknowledge X, but on the other hand let's not throw out Y" -- that kind of thing. I object because it's so unobjectionable. Who could be against it? It just sits there like a big impassive blob pumping lukewarm water into the conversation and diluting everything interesting about it. That is what I felt your comment did. But my annoyance is at the general phenomenon, not at you. That's part of the problem with these patterns; you can't object to them without changing the subject even further (and coming across as a jerk).

The interesting thing in the current conversation is the question of how and why reading articles on the internet is comparatively shallow, more shallow than it would seem like it ought to be from the surface. Speaking metaphorically (and no I do not have "data" on this), it is as if it provides druglike stimulation to some outer layer of the brain without ever reaching the deeper, slower layers where the truly valuable transformations are possible. Or, to change the metaphor, it is like the difference between sugar highs and nutrition. It seems clear that it is an addictive cycle, leading to a starvation problem: we spend so much time at the shallow stimulation that we have little left for deep reflection. It reminds me of rats in a cage pushing a lever for cocaine pellets. I sometimes wonder if future generations will look back on this as an epidemic that took a while to recognize and get under control.

Wow -- just reading this, I felt my concentration patterns change.

This is why, as a Christian, I meditate on something, instead of simply emptying my mind. I spent an hour or so in Psalm 119 this morning, contemplating a few verses, comparing with my life, and shaping my thinking to fit those verses.

Here's a thought. What if 50 of us committed to checking /newest at a particular time (say, 5 am), finding 2 articles worth reading, and adding a substantive, reflective comment to start things off?

That would gigantically impact Hacker News if we did that. In fact, I'm going to do that right now.

Too long; Didn't Read



We're already seeing conventions popping up to deal with this change in behavior. They just aren't formalized yet.

I think this will be another advantage that hypermedia will have over regular old print, you will be able to present your information in "layers". A TL;DR for reference, a summary, and then the full article.

Of course, that speaks nothing to the nature of the actual articles. I think theres a point where you've "read enough" and need to go do something else for a while, see what works and what doesn't. I took a two month long hiatus from HN to focus on other stuff recently. It helped. The first n articles at some point become much more helpful than the next nth articles.

> I think this will be another advantage that hypermedia will have over regular old print, you will be able to present your information in "layers". A TL;DR for reference, a summary, and then the full article.

Abstract, introduction, paper.

I was talking about in other contexts besides Academia. But yes, that is one solution. And it does work in print. But it has to co-exist alongside the other content.

> Abstract, introduction, paper.

Which makes it hilarious when people rail against "The TL;DR Mindset" as something brand-new and created by the Internet.

But it's exactly the other way around. We don't need more brevity and speed. We need less. How much gold do we mine by digging with a teaspoon here and there for five minutes?

>When the number of incoming stimuli is reduced, the mind gradually perceives finer details in the ones that remain. This is famously true of blind people, but you can consciously narrow your attention to the same effect.

Or starts hallucinating stuff (ganzfeld effect, Charles Bonnet syndrome)

"Open systems communicate and live. Closed systems do not communicate, become non-discerning, uninteresting and die." - Col. John Boyd

I disagree. When I find an article online that exposes a point of view that I haven't seen yet about some matter, I often keep thinking about it the whole day and I even discuss it with other people. That's really a contribution to my mind.

Plus, it's only exploring new things that you get interested and feel motivated to learn more about them.

Keeping an open mind is always great. However, being unable to focus on one task and become superior at it is quickly becoming an issue. Today, if I remember correctly, the average attention span is only 8 seconds. Remember: Jack of all trades is the master of none.

Disagree with your last point.

A jack of all trades is a master of the unique combination of his relative skill in each of those trades.

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