Advances in technology have paved the way for a virtual smorgasbord of information available at our fingertips, and like a champion eater at an all-you-can-eat buffet, many of us have stuffed ourselves to the point of exploding. However, has this veritable feast of information changed the way we process it? Have we traded savoring a full course meal for whatever bite-sized bits we can shove into our brains with both hands in the shortest amount of time? According to the readings for class this week (see bottom of page), we most certainly have.
Between surfing the web, checking social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, refreshing our email inbox, and sending/receiving text messages, we have our attention split a dozen different ways at any given point during the day. And all those things I listed does not even include the work or school projects currently under our noses — you know, the things we are supposed to be doing in order to be a productive employee/student. I am reminded of that scene from Two Weeks Notice where Sandra Bullock’s character tells her boss that he and his constant interruptions have given her an ulcer:
“I think of you in the shower — not in a good way, but in an I’m-so-distracted-I-can’t-remember-if-I-washed-my-hair kind of way, so I wash my hair twice.”
As a result, this ever-present list of distractions has served to shorten our attention spans. Instead of reading in-depth, our brains now seek to skim and move on to the next bit of text flashing across the screen. I have heard numerous reports of people getting lost in Wikipedia for hours; they would search for a specific item, then they would follow the hyperlinks from page to page, wandering down the rabbit hole of peer-edited articles and snippets until their original search term was no longer even a vague memory.
This omnipresent availability of data should be making us smarter. We should have cured cancer, found Amelia Earhart, and solved the problem of global warming by now. But by simply skimming the headlines, we are missing out on comprehension of any true substance. We are loading up on sides dishes and skipping the T-bone steak because it doesn’t fit easily on our plate.
Class Readings: Attention and Distraction
Helene Hembrooke and Gary Gay. (2003). The Laptop and the Lecture: The Effects of Multitasking in Learning Environments.
Eyal Ophir, Clifford Nass, and Anthony D. Wagner. (2009). Cognitive Control in Media Multitaskers.
Jonathon B. Spira and Joshua B. Feintuch. (2005). The Cost of Not Paying Attention: How Interruptions Impact Knowledge Worker Productivity.
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang. (2013). The Distraction Addiction.
Maggie Jackson. Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.
Nicholas Carr. (2008). Is Google Making Us Stupid?
Mihaela Vorvoreanu. (2014). Attention Management as a Fundamental Aspect of 21st Century Technology Literacy: A Research Agenda.