The biggest complaint, in both my Twitter sample and the expert essays, was about the quality of thinking in the online era. What the internet has done, say the dissenters, is damage our ability to concentrate for sustained periods. Being connected meant being constantly tempted to look away, to hop from the text in front of you to another, newer one. One tweeter replied that he now thought “about more things for shorter amounts of time. It’s like ADHD.” Anyone who has Tweetdeck fitted on their desktop, chirruping like a toddler tapping you on the shoulder urging you to come and play, will know what he means.
This, the worriers fear, is not just irritating; it might even damage our civilisation. How capable will people be of creating great works if they are constantly interrupted, even when alone? “What the net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation,” angsts Nicholas Carr, who believes the internet is steering us toward “the shallows”.
It is ever thus. Think back to the early days of TV and cable: My God, with so much to watch, will be ever get anything done? The exact same argument can be made—indeed, one wishes it were made—about books: With so many of them unread, how can we possibly ever do anything else? But, of course, we do.
Twitter addiction shall pass. Have faith—faith in your fellow man and woman. I was busy doing other things yesterday, important things, and so I pretty much did not tweet. I survived without it. So, I’m depressed to say, did all of you without me. I just wrote in my book that Twitter indeed created a distraction to writing the book, as I was tempted by the siren call of the conversation that never ends. But it also helped with my writing that I always had ready researchers and editors, friends willing to help when I got stuck or needed inspiration.