Thursday, March 17, 2011

Digital Media and the Age of Distraction

Not surprisingly, a recent stream of articles and books focus on Internet overload and loss of concentration.  In the blog, "8 Must- Reads About Digital Distraction and Information Overload," David Lavenda gives his list, and the titles alone speak to the concern:

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction"I Can't Think!" - an article in Newsweek.
"Wired for Distraction?" from Time magazine
"Social Media Users Grapple with Information Overload" in USA Today
Your Brain on Computer, a 7-part New York Times special series with titles such as Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction and Digital Devices Deprive Brain of Needed Downtime
Hamlet's Blackberry by William Powers
The Shallows: What The Internet is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr (See video interview with the author in next blog.)
The Tyranny of Email: The Four Thousand Year Journey to Your Inbox by John Freeman.
The Information: A History, A Flood, A Theory by James Gleick

Is our online life increasingly distracting us from reading? If so, we might not have time to check any of these readings to comprehend the implications biologically, chemically, socially of our new habits of mind. On the other hand, perhaps there is urgency to reading these pieces to fathom the impact of how our lives are changing.
In the  Lost Art of Reading: Why Books Matter in a Distracted Time, its author, David Ulin contends the quiet space needed for reading eludes us in our over-networked times.

What are the risks of living in an overly distracted world, where contemplation, quiet, and sustained reading threaten to be diminished? Have we acquiesced to the distractions, to the small fits of reading online, in chunks, with the classic book as a text slowly diminishing in value and as an activity of mind? Are these changes for the better as some technology gurus proclaim, or are they for the worse as the authors of the named text beseech us to believe?   

Image from Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction , NYT article


Jess said...

Technology is a constant topic in educational discussions, as it is an ever present being in our lives. I continually strive to engage learners by integrating technology in the classroom; however, after reading some of these articles, I am beginning to question the role of media in the classroom when it is already a demanding force in our everyday lives.

I agree that consumers are increasingly bombarded with information. As many researchers have pointed out, being accustomed to multitasking doesn’t necessarily mean that a person can do it well. In fact, people who multitask generally make less accurate and thoughtful decisions (Begley, 2011; Conley, 2011). Also, people’s creativity is hindered they don’t allow themselves to ruminate over a problem or task. (Begley, 2011). Educators must keep this in mind when asking students to complete multi-step processes using technology. If the load of information becomes too burdensome, chances are students will quit the task to play a game or check their facebook.

Ultimately, I think that it is the job of English teachers to help students become effective communicators in a technology-driven world, and not to succumb to the influence of immediacy through technology. Swartz (2011) writes that we need to figure out how others want to be communicated with, but I would argue that we must teach students to be good communicators, and then businesses will be forced to sell products to fit this mold. This means that, as teachers, we are responsible for not using just any technology with our students, but picking appropriate tools that allow students to properly communicate with others.

sign said...

Your blog keeps getting better and better! Your older articles are not as good as newer ones you have a lot more creativity and originality now. Keep it up!

Digital media

Mary Beth Cadieux said...

It is quite often that I hear a teacher or a parent grumble about how students are unable to pay attention "these days". I don't think kids are unable to pay attention, rather I think students pay attention to so much at once simply because they have grown up this way. The other day I was asking my students how they studied for a test. The vast majority of students listen to music, surf on facebook and study all at the same time, (often while enjoying a snack)! As an educator this methodology is scary, because I grew up in an age before Facebook or even Myspace, when times were simpler. The constant technological pull to be involved in so many things at once seems, as a whole, overwhelming to me. However, I must always remind myself that this is not necessarily how they feel! Multitasking is becoming (or has become) second nature to these students who played with smart phone not too long after coming out of the womb. It is safe to say it is engrained in their beings at this point.

With all of that being said, I do think we need to work with our students to build skill sets which allow them to work on one task at a time. I value my students participating in sustained silent reading for this very purpose. Sometimes, in order to do our best we need to momentarily focus on just one thing and fully engage. Moreover, as our students' everyday lives change, we must adapt how and what we teach in order to meet there needs. Previously, teachers have stressed the needs for students to think more dynamically, rather than just passively accept knowledge given by the teacher. Now, we as educators must help students gain the skills that they are missing through texting, tweeting, face-timing and inboxing. We must help students gain the skills to focus over a period of time and also to communicate with others in person!