In the past if you remember, we had one browser on Internet Explorer. You viewed what you wanted and if you wanted to look at a new page at the same time, you had to open an entirely new browser.

Then came the multi tab system.

The point of this system was to enable you to browse more than one topic simultaneously. Instead of having two windows open, you can open up multiple tabs within the same browser. This allowed you to shift between tabs and scroll through the information with ease.

This simplicity comes with a hidden tradeoff and I suspect that this has a connection to what’s considered attention deficit disorder. ADD and ADHD have clinical definitions but my view here is by misusing the multi tab option, we create our own form of this attention weakness. I hold the view this is just a lack of the ability to concentrate on a single topic and evolves into a cognitive habit over time.

Think about it. If you had one browser with a single tab, you were forced to engage the content to a certain depth before moving on to the next page. Why? Because once you left that page you could no longer shift back to it without losing the current page. So you gave more attention to the information presented before you. This is similar to doing your homework without distractions: music, TV, friends.

With multi tabs, you can have several pages open and flip through each with minimal concentration on absorbing the topics. This is like having those distractions while you study: talking on the phone, watching TV clips here and there and then returning to your studies.

With undisciplined multi tabbing, deep understanding is exchanged for surface understanding on a wide area of topics. You end up reducing your ability to concentrate on a single task.

Expand this mental habit to daily life and you may find your willpower weaken to see goals from start to finish. The simple ability to begin and work with determination to the end erodes. Clearly this is not a beneficial habit for a self-directed learner to cultivate. Here is my main suggestion on how to avoid the self-induced ADD:

Shift from the multi tab to the 1-2 tab: Reduce the number of tabs open. Apply conscious effort to reading or viewing whatever it is that’s on those tabs from beginning to end. Make it a goal. No matter how much content is on the page you want to absorb, do so just with that page. Only once you’ve finished can you move to the next tab. Repeat process. Evidence of your concentration strengthening will be the amount of energy you have to put into doing this. The stronger your focus, the more effortless this experience will feel. The less exertion you’ll need. Eventually, the habit will become instinctual. Once you feel comfortable with your focus, you can move to adding the number of tabs because you won’t have the temptation to quickly shift among them all. You’ll be trained to take care of the information in a disciplined way.

They say there can be too much of a good thing. I think the Internet browser can be one of them.

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