Matthew R. Perry

Google, Stoopidity, and the Marvels of Moleskine

In Culture, Moleskine on June 18, 2008 at 3:31 pm

While waiting at the airport this past weekend, I ventured on a very insightful article (HT: Shane Anderson) dealing with how Google and the Internet is harming our brains and our thinking power. Here’s an excerpt:

Over the past few years I’ve had an uncomfortable sense that someone, or something, has been tinkering with my brain, remapping the neural circuitry, reprogramming the memory. My mind isn’t going—so far as I can tell—but it’s changing. I’m not thinking the way I used to think. I can feel it most strongly when I’m reading. Immersing myself in a book or a lengthy article used to be easy. My mind would get caught up in the narrative or the turns of the argument, and I’d spend hours strolling through long stretches of prose. That’s rarely the case anymore. Now my concentration often starts to drift after two or three pages. I get fidgety, lose the thread, begin looking for something else to do. I feel as if I’m always dragging my wayward brain back to the text. The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.

I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer. Research that once required days in the stacks or periodical rooms of libraries can now be done in minutes. A few Google searches, some quick clicks on hyperlinks, and I’ve got the telltale fact or pithy quote I was after. Even when I’m not working, I’m as likely as not to be foraging in the Web’s info-thickets—reading and writing e-mails, scanning headlines and blog posts, watching videos and listening to podcasts, or just tripping from link to link to link. (Unlike footnotes, to which they’re sometimes likened, hyperlinks don’t merely point to related works; they propel you toward them.)

For me, as for others, the Net is becoming a universal medium, the conduit for most of the information that flows through my eyes and ears and into my mind. The advantages of having immediate access to such an incredibly rich store of information are many, and they’ve been widely described and duly applauded. “The perfect recall of silicon memory,” Wired’s Clive Thompson has written, “can be an enormous boon to thinking.” But that boon comes at a price. As the media theorist Marshall McLuhan pointed out in the 1960s, media are not just passive channels of information. They supply the stuff of thought, but they also shape the process of thought. And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation. My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles. Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.

I completely sympathize with this article. I find my mind slipping into neutral when I’m surfing the ‘net, even under the banner of “doing research.” In fact, my computer is on the fritz and will be until Friday (I’m using another computer here at church). I have gotten more accomplished with my stack of books, my Bible, and my moleskine than I have in weeks! You think there’s a pattern here? Ugh! The time warp of the Internet will undo us all!

Speaking of Moleskine: I am hooked, and I have Joe Thorn to blame for it. I was a Mead Composition Notebook guy, but found that the paper, the wide ruled nature of the layout, and the ease with which it falls apart made me begin to look for other options. So, I tried a Moleskine, and now I love it and am hooked on journaling, especially when it comes to sermon preparation. I find that if I write out my research in this journal rather than type it out on a computer, I absorb the content a bit more and the sermon becomes more personal to me as well.

Also, others have written articles about how much easier organizing via paper as opposed to PDAs have made life easier. One way is by a gentleman named Mark Dwight, the founder of Rickshaw who has a nice video on his use of Moleskine journals.

Whatever you use, be sure and journal and never underestimate the power of pen and paper.

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  1. I’m in complete agreement. I have started limiting the time that I spend on the Net for whatever purpose. I love Moleskine, and have been using them for almost three years now. It is much easier to absorb whatever information you put in them, or any notebook for that matter, because it takes actual concentration to write the material. I have found that my hands type with almost no concentrated thought. I have discovered that I can be typing a research paper/e-mail/blog and actually be actively thinking about something else that is completely unrelated. The Net has become such a large part of our daily lives I wonder if the dependency can be broken? Either way, I do not think we are better off for it.

  2. What is “Moleskine”? I never heard of it.

  3. Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about Moleskine:

    Moleskine is a brand of notebook manufactured by Moleskine srl, an Italian company. Although the name implies otherwise, the notebook is not bound in moleskin, but in oilcloth-covered cardboard. Other distinct features include an elastic band to hold the notebook closed, a sewn spine that allows it to lie flat when opened, rounded corners, a ribbon bookmark and an expandable pocket inside the rear cover.

    The modern Moleskine is fashioned after Bruce Chatwin’s descriptions of the notebooks he used and is not a direct descendant of the original moleskine. Chatwin used similar notebooks constantly throughout his travels, and wrote about them glowingly. His original source of notebooks dried up in 1986, when his Paris stationer informed him that the last moleskine manufacturer, a small family-run firm of Tours, had discontinued production that year after the death of the owner.

  4. […] think better with pen and paper than I do in front of a computer. In a post at another blog I run, I noted:  “Speaking of Moleskine: I am hooked, and I have Joe Thorn to blame for it. I was […]

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