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“O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,
That has such people in’t!”
– William Shakespeare, The Tempest


When he was young, J.J. Abrams, the producer of Lost, bought a mystery box at a magic store with his grandfather. Abrams brought this mystery box to his TED talk in 2007, informing the audience that the box has never and will never be opened. The box is both a tribute to his grandfather and a daily reminder to embrace the unknown. He preaches that “Mystery is the catalyst for imagination. Mystery is more important than knowledge.” Above all, Abrams encourages listeners to maintain their sense of wonder.

The instant gratification society is denting our ability to wonder

Wonder what your friends are up to? Check their snap story. Wonder if you’ll get a cab? Request an Uber. Immediate gratification is the name of the game in this digital age.  With endless information at our fingertips, we’ve come to seek out answers without thinking through the questions themselves (hence, you consider answers.com one of your best friends). The internet has made wondering a needless activity.

What we do when we are bored

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In a recent study by Microsoft researchers, 77% of individuals age 18-24 readily agreed to the statement: “When nothing is occupying my attention, the first thing I do is reach for my phone.” Believe it or not, the average person checks his phone around 150 times per day. We’re no longer “bored,” we’re just senselessly clicking from link to link without clear purpose.

As a result of our multiscreen lifestyles, our ability to concentrate has been compromised.  We must now tip our cap to the goldfish, whose brain power and endurance allows it to boast a 9 second attention span. This swims past the average human attention span, which clocked in an all-time low of 8 seconds (down from 12s in 2000). Perhaps they should be the ones getting the ones getting the brain surgery after all.

A Nobel Truth

It’s true. We do spend too much time plugged in and logged on. Noting the greater inconsistencies in the duration of our attention spans, however, the same Microsoft study proposed that we are now better at filtering and identifying important information.

We must remember the internet isn’t the first scientific breakthrough with profound societal impacts. Nobel prize recipient and physicist Richard P. Feynman once said, “Poets say science takes away from the beauty of the stars- mere globs of gas atoms. I, too, can see the stars on a desert night, and feel them. But do I see less or more?”

Embracing the net

“The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”
― W.B. Yeats

We must agree that the Internet has provided us with an endless wealth of information and unprecedented means to share research and collaborate with others. There is no dearth of resources, and scientist and poets alike continue to propose new hypotheses and pursue uncharted avenues. We are knocking on new doors.

In 2015, headlines roared about a new course being offered at the University of Pennsylvania. Taught by American poet and Professor Kenneth Goldsmith, students of his Wednesday evening course “Wasting Time on the Internet” were “required to stare at the screen for three hours, only interacting through chat rooms, bots, social media and listservs.” A surrealist’s dream, he believes our meanderings on the internet create a “situationist-inspired dérive,” half awake,half asleep. Goldsmith believes that the Internet provides the ultimate raw material for a new age of literature and art.

The art of distraction has never been more suited for a society than ours. Just remember to double think before you double click. Don’t let your wonder go asunder.