I think I’m addicted to information.
The constant availability of countless links, blog posts, commentary sites, e-mails, and tweets pull at me. They all flash before my eyes on my digital devices, buzzing around like a pesky fly, tempting me to deal with the itch.
So I usually do.
I wake up and, before commuting to work, see if any headlines at SI.com pique my interest, then scan the 10-day weather report to target optimal hunting days. I suppose that’s the equivalent of skimming through a hardcopy newspaper.
But I check e-mail too often. I click on links when I know they have little chance of revealing redeeming qualities. Sometimes, I feel like I end up clicking on links or typing in URLs out of reflex, before even thinking about what I’m actually doing.
This type of behavior seems to reinforce Nicholas Carr’s thesis in The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains: our neural pathways are being rewired as we embrace and use different technological tools. I certainly don’t enjoy the sensation of being subconsciously moved to swat at the information itch, but I do generally enjoy sifting through the deluge.
Cheri Lucas Rowlands at Writing Through the Fog writes, “not much is gained from scouring and consuming as much as we can on the internet.” I agree. While the mere act of reading is pleasurable to me, Rowlands makes me question my own information consumption patterns as she continues, “…that’s all I need. One intriguing, thoughtful story per day, relevant to my interests, rather than a flood of information through me, three-fourths of which doesn’t add real value to my day.”
Unlike Rowlands, who works as a writer and editor, I don’t have a fear of missing out on the best links and stories of the day. My teaching demands don’t require me to be constantly up to speed on trending Twitter topics and other issues, so when I do feel like I’m working on overdrive to keep up with or consume digital information, it’s usually by choice.
Do you feel addicted to information? What web-curation sites/strategies do you use? How much digital information that you sift through each day do you retain? Does it matter? How do we find that one worthwhile story?
See if you can read through this entire blog post without being distracted by e-mails, hyperlinks, instant messengers, or the phone in your pocket.
I bet you can pretty easily, if you choose to.
I also know most of the Stew readers are adults, many of whom raise similar questions of how the digital world is changing how attentive we are, how we consume and produce information, and how we communicate with others. I also believe that many in the blogging community choose to focus their attention on longer–by digital age standards, at least–texts and essays.
On the other hand, for students who have grown up in the digital world, capturing attention is a struggle, a currency, something us teachers and other adults can no longer take for granted. This thoughtful piece by Principal Cale Birk addresses how the onus is on presenters and teachers to create more engaging lessons and presentations so the audience doesn’t feel the pull to check e-mail or Fantasy Football rosters. Birk concludes, “Collectively, we have an obligation to engage those that we are teaching or working with. To simply blame technology for students being ‘more distracted’ is both limp and counterproductive. And by adopting this mindset, we will never succeed in getting the ‘full attention’ of anyone.” I mostly agree with Birk and, as a teacher, I’m constantly trying to capture the currency of attention using a variety of techniques and activities.
However, I don’t believe Birk gives enough credit to how little self-control many students have when it comes to technology. He writes, “We need to stop judging ‘young people’ and their being distracted, having short attention spans, or whatever other denigrating phraseology we can come up with about them being less engaged in classrooms across North America.” I will judge students, but it’s also clear we need to teach meta-cognition to young people–heck, even adults–the Pavlovian response many of us have regarding digital distractions.
Check out the student comments left on this New York Times blog post:
Almost the whole time in class all i think about is “oh i wonder if he texted me back”. So I can honestly say it does get in the way of learning.
When i do have my phone on while im studying i constantly go on the internet or talk to my friends and then I end up forgetting what I studied because im more focused on my phone.
Technology has many uses when dealing with education. It is true that it can be distracting for some, but it offers so many resources at our finger tips.
I definitely think technology has shortened my attention span. When I am at home doing homework I constantly check my phone, Facebook, etc. On top of that when I come across a tough problem in Math I can easily Google it. I most likely spend hours in front of electronics every day. I catch myself day dreaming at school, thinking of what I am going to do on the internet when I get home.
Digital technology definitely does shorten my attention span because I get distracted with the web and texting. If I have work on the computer, I watch some types of shows while doing my work on the Internet. I waste more time texting my friends then doing my schoolwork.
I can honestly say that most technology is a distraction to me. I’m constantly on my computer, iPod, and phone. Saying that, I know that there is a time and place to use technology, and that’s most certainly not in class or when I’m doing my homework.
Technology can be very distracting when it is put in front of you as much as it is today. When you have smartphones and computers and all of these other types of fancy gadgets, it makes you forget about the original material you were taught in class. Technology can shorten kids attention span because they go from a quick-easy way on the internet to a long, descriptive class that involves more detail.
I think technology can be very distracting in a classroom. But if teachers don’t make their classes interesting, students will find another way to get distracted. For me my cellphone is very distracting if I feel it vibrate I immediately have to check who it is.
This is hardly a scientific study, but the majority of students who left comments admitted they are distracted and even addicted to their gadgets. Yes, bored audiences and classrooms have always doodled, daydreamed, and passed notes. But now it’s just so easy to disengage, with thousands of games, messages, and websites to address. Do you worry about being disrespectful during meetings or presentations if you pull out your phone? What does it take to fully engage you in the classroom or during a presentation? Should we care, as a culture, about changing norms relating to attention? Is it silly to worry about how today’s youth, and many adults, are incessantly connected and distracted?
Google’s Project Glass disturbs me.
If you didn’t know, Google is working on a prototype set of eye glasses that are networked, potentially giving users an “augmented” brain, making a multitude of communication forms and information instantaneously accessible. Google co-founder Sergey Brin admitted at a conference in July that the project has a long way to go, but the project’s ambition is huge.
This would fundamentally changes how we experience day to day life. Constant multitasking. Constant information overload potential. Constant screen time. Is this what we want? Is this a development that will benefit anyone? If so, how?
As blogger Hugh Cutler has commented on one of my previous posts, the technological imperative–the idea that new developments are good for society and must be developed–is one that not enough people have questioned. Hugh feels as if it can be done, it will be, no questions asked. He seems to be right, especially with powerful companies like Google and Apple currently driving human behavior and culture in ways unimaginable several decades back.
I’ll admit I’ve benefited personally and professional due to technological developments, but at what point do you step back and draw a line in the sand? When do you say enough is enough?
The first words you encounter on Google’s Project Glass site: We think Glass helps you share your life as you’re living it; from life’s big moments to everyday experiences.
Sorry, Google, I have no desire to share my life any more easily than I can already. I already have enough information to sort through and distill. If Project Glass comes to mass market, and people can more easily upload images and stream live video while mowing the lawn or enjoying a plate of nachos at the local Mexican restaurant, then I won’t be the one attempting to find the information. If Project Glass becomes an affordable reality in 10 years, I won’t be lining up outside of Best Buy anxiously waiting to purchase my headset.
Is this a compelling vision to you?
To me, this is complete overload.
Techradar speculates what Google Glass could mean, or not mean, in the future:
OK, what will I really be able to do with Google Glass? Is Google Glass a vision of the future?
Nobody knows. The idea is to deliver augmented reality, with information that’s directly relevant to your surroundings appearing in front of you whenever you need it. For example, your glasses might tell you where the nearest decent restaurant is, book your table, invite your friends and show you how to get there, or they might provide work-related information when you’re at your desk.
What information we’ll use it for, if we use it at all, remains to be seen: like Apple’s Siri, it’s a technology with enormous potential. It could even end up in contact lenses: one of the Project Glass team, Babak Parviz of the University of Washington, recently built a contact lens with embedded electronics.
I own an iPhone 4s, and I rarely depend on Siri. I find my phone useful, but not so useful that I feel any need to talk to a robot. Google is betting that enough people will desire even more connectivity and information not only at one’s fingertips, but on our heads, with sensors reacting to our movements.
When do we cease to remain human when our lives are augmented or changed drastically by technology? Though written in 1999, Bill McKibben’s book Enough: Staying Human in the Engineered Age was one of the first texts that challenged my thinking about technology and humanity. It is highly relevant today. It’s so easy to be blinded by the new and shiny. It’s so easy to embrace the latest innovation. It’s not so easy to step back and think about whether or not tech. innovations contribute to a high quality, more fulfilling life. As in other facets of life, we must learn to say “enough” and weigh the pros and cons of our decisions with regards to new opportunities for more, new, and “better.”
Will you line up to buy Google Glasses? Will you wait and see, and then make up your mind? What do you think of the idea of the technological imperative?
What do your technology habits mean in the context of your social life? How come some people are smitten with social media, yet able to still focus and have conversations face-to-face, while others feel anxious if they aren’t constantly on their devices?
What can science really tell us about the complex roles of social media, technology, and computer-mediated communication in our social lives? It’s a question I’ve been increasingly asking myself. As a scientist, my job is to deconstruct very complex phenomena into understandable components, put things in neat, little, over-simplified boxes so that we can actually begin to understand something in systematic, replicable ways. Don’t get me wrong. I love science and think the tools of science are still the best we have available to us. But there are also limitations to these tools.
In particular, I think we haven’t even begun to wrap our heads around how all the technologies we use to augment our social lives work together to create a unique social experience. For example, the social context of texting is very different from that of Facebook which is very different from the social context of blogging, etc,……
View original post 666 more words
This past year, I heard–and saw–many students shift from using Facebook regularly to embracing Twitter. I caught students constantly checking their accounts, sending mostly inane and sometimes shockingly inappropriate messages during the school day. Can’t w8 to get high and f%$k this school, to name a few. I couldn’t stand it.
Instead of focusing on my digital storytelling assignment, those addicted students toggled back and forth from editing a picture or audio clip to checking their Twitter feed. Is there any substance to this? I thought to myself regularly.
Now some of my students have moved on to Tumblr as the next big thing, but Twitter’s popularity has skyrocketed in recent years across demographic groups. According to mediabistro, the number of users on Twitter recently surpassed half a billion, but apparently only one third of those Twitterers are active users. Count me as a newbie, a barely active user.
I joined the masses in the Twitterverse.
I signed up a few months ago, after my friend Steve Kertis of Kertis Creative recommended that I test it out. After all, it’s hard to be a practicing blogger or writer, hoping to reach greater audiences and engage in continuing dialogue, without playing the social media game. Not just Facebook. Not just Twitter. Not just Pinterest. But a combination of several sites seems to be the MO.
I understand Twitter’s potential value, so I follow fifty or so people, mostly fellow educators and technology writers/thinkers, to scan the information they curate. I’ll click on an article link now and then. But I find it a chore to retweet, post regularly, and attempt to amass followers and follows. I have a whopping 12 followers.
I already have my “go-to” sites for information, great blogs I check on WordPress, and spend enough time engaged with a screen.
I can see why some educators push to teach students to use Twitter thoughtfully, but I don’t think the overzealous approach by educators like Vicki Davis at Cool Cat Teacher and Lisa Nielsen at Innovative Educator, advocating for unbridled cell phone use in classrooms, is prudent.
I don’t want to allow students to have the constant distraction at their fingertips. With regards to digital media/literacy, I’d rather teach them to blog, use Google Drive, and connect on Skype with other classrooms across the world. Technophiles such as Davis and Nielsen don’t seem to be willing to reflect on whether or not constant connectivity and mobile device use is actually a good thing. I also don’t buy the argument that “writing” on a mobile device during class time is generally a productive use of time compared to handwriting or typing responses to thoughtful prompts.
I’m not entirely sold on Twitter personally, but I’m not giving up just yet. I am currently convinced, however, that I don’t want students to be able to use Twitter all day, every class period, on their mobile devices, even with instruction on how to be more mindful users.
What are your thoughts? Do you Tweet? Do you find it beneficial personally or professionally? Why do you choose to spend time on Twitter, versus other social media outlets? How about Twitter’s role in education? Does it have a place?
As constant connectivity becomes more and more integral and tempting in daily life, it’s wise to step back and reflect on how you utilize online tools. Are you spending time the way you truly desire to? Are you efficiently getting work done? Do you feel addicted to certain technologies? My own digital journey is constantly changing course as I revise what I do–and don’t do–online. Here are five tips that I will follow for the time being:
1. Create a list of your intentions and goals when you get to work in front of a screen. Make it visible. Create it with paper and pencil, or use an online task list. If you find yourself straying from your intended tasks, having the list will help create awareness of your online habits and attention patterns. Howard Rheingold makes this suggestion in his outstanding book Net Smart: How to Thrive Online.
2. Turn on your cell phone ringer. I’ve decided that, unless I’m in a meeting or a public place that warrants a silent phone, it’s much more efficient to pick up the phone. Even if I don’t recognize the number. Phone tag is on the verge of becoming an Olympic sport with some people’s penchant for constantly screening calls or keeping ringers on silent. Remember when we had land lines, and somebody in the house would rush to answer the phone, no matter what, with the exception of dinnertime-interrupting telemarketers?
3. Work in focused, twenty to thirty minute bursts. This works for me. Whether I’m lesson planning, writing a blog post, or checking off tasks from my online “to-do” list, I like feeling engaged in one thing at a time, chunking productivity followed by leisurely distractions. After the burst, take a break. Check your Twitter Feed or personal e-mail. Browse your favorite blogs and news sites. Get your hyperlink and multitasking fix, then get back to another burst. Depending on what you are doing online, sometimes it’s advantageous to have multiple tabs or windows up. As I write this blog post, I’m readily accessing other articles and blogs to link to.
4. Pursue a technology-free hobby (or close to it). For me, this includes gardening and bow-hunting. There are so many worthwhile–and mindless–pursuits online, and it doesn’t surprise me to hear students exclaim that their free time is swallowed up by social media, gaming, etc. But to lead a balanced, active life, I believe it’s unhealthy to do too much of anything. The onus is on teachers and parents to help set guidelines and teach young people to find balance.
5. Disconnect once a week for a full day. This one is tough. I haven’t built it into my repertoire, as I’m a voracious reader, enjoying tapping into multiple online news and commentary websites on a daily basis. As the school year starts, there are countless ways I use computers to facilitate lesson planning, parent communication, and professional writing/networking. Saturday will become my computer disconnect day this school year. Want to take the challenge to the next level? Keep computers and cell phones off for one day a week. I’ll touch base later this fall with a report on how well I’ve achieved tip #5, assessing whether or not it’s worth it.
Do you have any strategies for balancing screen time with other pursuits? Are there some ideas you’d personally add to this list?