Twinking is my contraction of tweet and thinking, and refers to an inability to think beyond 250 characters. In other words, twinking refers to shallow thinking. This is the level of thinking many of us resort to these days. With the unrelenting onslaught of – and infinite access to – information, many of us are content with just skimming across what pops up on our screens, and proceed to make rash and rush judgements.
We no longer read but just skim. In the process, we trade depth for breadth, and get our minds trapped in a web of ill-formed and ill-informed beliefs and opinions. Just when we should be reading more and reflect on what we are reading, we do less of that. More worrisome is that we might well be permanently rewiring our brains in the process.
I was quite pleased with my contraction until I put twinking in a Google search. I had to try a couple of times because autocorrect kept me suspended between thinking and twinkling. When I finally got the engine to search correctly, I found that the verb was already in use.
Apparently, online gamers use the verb twinking to refer to the act of outfitting new characters with items/resources that are normally not available to them. I could not find an explanation for how this term came about in that context but it has no doubt little to do with the contraction I concocted.
More worrisome is that in the gaming world, the use of the verb twinking seems to imply some form of empowerment. In my use context, it implies anything but that. The tweet-thinking contraction refers to hasty and shallow thinking which does not corroborate with understanding and, hence, the empowerment of the human mind.
Skimming and the neuroscience of it
We are all so busy – and pre-occupied with being busy – that we no longer read anything in depth or take the time to reflect on what we read. We just skim through the many sources available to us and let our busyness take the oxygen out of our thinking. We create beliefs and opinions from quilting together bits and pieces of what we see without going into any great depth on any of them. Our thinking becomes a cut-and-paste job of snippets of information without much reflection and, hence, the building of knowledge.
It is as if everything we should read has become small print and, hence, remains unread and unnoticed. Only bold-printed titles and italics-printed quotes from others catch our attention these days. If we cannot weave an opinion out of them, we might skim an abstract, a summary, or conclusions to solidify one. For too many of us, substantive content that might help us – or force us – to think has become small print and, hence, gets ignored. We are busy being busy, and are content with just skimming to know instead of reading to understand.
Neuroscientists have begun to worry about what that might do to our brains. Some research already suggests that skimming leads to a permanent rewiring of the brain. As we are skimming more and more, our brain neurons are beginning to fire away in patterns that will make it even harder to think when we need or want to. This should worry all of us.
Short is in
Short attention spans, short messaging, short tempers, you name it. Short is in. Soundbites, short video clips, tweets; for all of them, the shorter the better. Everything gets condensed into a punchline, and with more attention being paid to the punch than the content of the line.
We don’t even write full sentences anymore. We resort to using contractions, abbreviations, and emojis that convey in a concise but standardized manner what we want to say. So much for going to school and learning how to write well thought-out sentences (what first graders call five-star sentences). We look for shortcuts in everything we do, and we are in a hurry to get it done.
Multitasking is in as well
We believe that we can do multiple things at the same time. We have convinced ourselves – and are actually impressed by it – that we can juggle balls while cutting carrots for dinner. Just try, and tell me what got cut. Some tasks we can do in parallel with others because they involve little thought and concentration. These tasks have become routine and we can just go on autopilot to execute them. Thinking, however, is not one of those tasks.
Thinking is not something we can do while attending to another task. It requires focus and attention. We cannot think unless we put time and effort into it. We can drive while having a conversation with someone else but we cannot do that when we enter a busy parking lot and need to find a spot to park. In fact, many of us even turn down the volume on the car radio when we do. Thinking requires us to concentrate, and we cannot do that well when we are distracted or divide our attention over multiple tasks.
Learning is creating knowledge in our minds. It requires thought and reflection, activities that require our full attention and engagement. As we go about it, questions will keep popping up in our minds, and we need to pursue each and everyone of them. That is how knowledge is created and understanding acquired. That cannot be achieved unless we disconnect from everything else we are doing and devote our full attention to thought. Twinking will not get us there. As we skim away and collect ill-formed and ill-informed opinions, we will not get much wiser. In fact, the reverse might well be true. As the saying goes, fast wings make slow eyes.