Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 8, 2010

Research, Books, and the Web

A few days ago a friend and I discussed a show on Frontline. Digital Nation brought up how many people think they can multitask, checking email and twitter, say, while listening to a college lecture; but when retention tests were taken, many were surprised by how poorly they’d done.

Computers and all the multimedia hand gadgets may encourage us to split our attention. I love working on my laptop and how quickly I can review definitions and dates, but if my historical research ends with fact checking, it’s not where it begins. Most of my ideas come from the slower more intimate experience of turning pages, then noting a detail that makes my heart trip. Some of those ideas deepen as I fold back a soft page, hear paper rustle as I put down the book and muse. The world wide web offers great information, but it’s already been culled and processed, hauled back from the past. Many overlooked details are still in the fragile yellowing pages of a book or letters.

Here’s one of the glories of the internet: you can probably find a way to watch Digital Naition if you’re interested, and I’ve put a trailer for it below. We live at a lucky time to have this, while still being able to choose books, where buttons don’t wink or flash, enticing us to other sites, but offer the pleasures of dwelling and depth.

And for Nonfiction Monday round-up, please visit:



  1. This is the kind of thing I’m hoping to find today!

  2. You’re up early! And yes, I believe you’ll come home with a little bit of gold dust on your fingers. I love your book mobile friend for giving you the push that will get to you bigger shelves of older books. And a kind of magic.

  3. “Many overlooked details are still in the fragile yellowing pages of a book or letters.”
    Thank you for this post. We are a nation of processed information and processed food, and often suffer from lack of authentic experience. I worry about the short attention spans and multi-tasking mania. It’s a real challenge to make technology work for us in the right way, isn’t it?

  4. I missed the first episode on Tuesday of Digital Nation. I have been visiting the website and it is really fascinating.

  5. “Processed information” is a good phrase for it, Jama.
    I came across an article in the Atlantic a while ago that made a similar point. It made me more wary of the internet and what it might be doing to my brain. (Of course, these days I should be so lucky as to have internet time… sorry to be so scarce of late!)

  6. Interesting connection of processed information and processed food. Neither sounds very appealing. I could really get some very unsavory metaphors going here, but I’ll spare us. I’d rather think of say, real supper with real vegetables.

  7. Amy, always glad to see you, whenever you squeeze in the time!

  8. Great! Thank you.

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