The Disappearing Art of Reflection

July 30, 2010

Recently, I wrote an essay on “Rethinking the Value of the Internet” and I came to point #4 and realized it opened up a huge can of worms. I said that the Internet can cause us to lose the ability to become reflective. I received a flood of emails and personal responses asking me to go into more detail about this.

A week later, I read about a book written by Nicholas Carr titled, “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains” wherein he laments our lost ability to REFLECT in life any more. I realized I had to read it and digest it in my search to help others become more reflective. There are literally hundreds of pithy quotations from that book, but let me quote just two. Early in the book, he makes this analogy:

“Once I was a scuba diver in a sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski.”

The Internet, he says, causes us to no longer see the big picture about anything. He puts it this way,

“We don’t see the forest when we search the Web,” he writes. “We don’t even see the trees. We see twigs and leaves.”

He adds that Twitter, Facebook, text messages, emails, television and every other type of media causes us to have permanent Attention Deficit Disorder. He wonders if the increasing incidence of ADD in our society is because the multiplication of media  has taken everyone with mild cases and turned us into raging Distractoholics. He is exactly right.

In the next month or so, I will be publishing a series of essays to bring our minds back to the disappearing ability to reflect  on anything. In this series I have four purposes:

  • To point out the value of reflection
  • To note the dangers associated with not reflecting
  • To show the obstacles that prevent us from reflection
  • To propose solutions to those obstacles

Join with me in this hunt for the elusive “Reflective Life”.



  1. This book is on my to read list. I really do think that the internet is changing the way we and our kids thinkI look forward to reading all you have to say on this subject

  2. Interesting. Scary too. As if we all didn’t already have problems with immediate gratification, the internet just magnifies all that.

  3. I actually think the internet allows me to be the scuba diver, swimming thru the sea of words, able to watch the creatures I could not see before.I know so much more about the world now, sometimes I wish I knew less!
    I think the ADD is from video games, every special ed kid I work with is hooked. The internet makes musty outdated Encyclopedias a thing kids no longer have to deal with. Such a wonderful resource, yet such an easy temptation…. it is like the tree of knowledge: are you SURE you want to know everything?

    I do concede that because I can read anything I want to now, I have way less tolerance for boring writing or repetetive fiction….. so I have changed.

  4. I jet-ski’ed into your blog via Readomattic; the very embodiment of exactly the sort of morsel-nibbling approach to information the internet offers.

    I was chatting about this offline with a friend the other day; certainly having vast amounts of information at our fingertips does have a tendency to analyse and verify it less…

    • Beyondanomie: Not only do we begin to lose the ability to analyze, we actually use a different part of the brain to analyze. In some ways, we become much more “link” oriented (i.e. seeing connections to everything), but unless the links are obvious, we may miss the more subtle links to things that only are seen through reflection.
      Btw…read through your blog. Good postings.

      • Yes, we multitask and cross-reference in a very superficial way (think how people open URL link after link, in multiple tabs, for an obvious example).

        Breadth, not depth.

  5. In the classes I teach (online ironically) I often talk to my students about the importance that introspection and reflective analysis plays in our ability to be critical thinkers.

    • Aaron: Are you finding a different type of student regarding reflection than say five years ago?

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