The Culture of Distraction
One of the interesting challenges involved in using technology for teaching is how to keep students holding a connective device focused on the agenda rather than going on Facebook. I maintain that this has always been a challenge, kids have always used the current technology to distract themselves (I used to “text” my friends (pass notes) rather than pay attention to a boring teacher). Is the current wave different? Perhaps. And this speech about the “Culture of Distraction” has some interesting food for thought.
I’d argue that what’s happening is that we’re becoming like the mal-formed weight lifter who trains only their upper body and has tiny little legs. We’re radically over-developing the parts of quick thinking, distractable brain and letting the long-form-thinking, creative, contemplative, solitude-seeking, thought-consolidating pieces of our brain atrophy by not using them. And, to me, that’s both sad and dangerous.
So far, my approach to the technology distraction has been to present students with the research about the human brain’s inability to successfully multitask, and to shame and berate them. I have solicited comments from friends on Facebook about what I should tell them. Students seem genuinely shocked that it is possible to be out of direct contact with one’s friends for more than one hour at a time. I tell them about my college days when our phone was on the hallway wall, shared with the 10 other rooms in that section, and our primary means of communication was the whiteboard on our dorm room door, and I might as well be telling them we used outhouses for all the resonance it has to them.
To me, this “culture of distraction” is alarming, yes, but it is also a challenge to teachers. How can we create meaningful projects, the kind that require long-form, sustained attention (Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow comes to mind)? How can the technology, the being “plugged-in,” enhance the state of flow they feel when working on a project, rather than serving as a distraction? I struggle with this myself, and I have some ideas, but I welcome your thoughts on it in the comments.