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.


Strong Ties & Privacy

*Note: This post is brought to you by hot tea and cold meds.  Please excuse the possible (ahem, likely) incoherency.

my bubble

In class on Monday, our professor said something I found very interesting: Exclusively maintaining strong ties negates a need for privacy.

To explain this, I should probably give a little bit of background info for my non-class readers.  For those of you who were already privy to this lecture, feel free to skip the next paragraph.

Quick review:  Strong ties are the relationships you have with friends; weak ties are the relationships you have with acquaintances.  Granovetter explains in his Strength of Weak Ties that it is actually the weak ties — the relationships you have with people outside of your group of friends — that build cognition and expand perception.  This is because we typically befriend those who are very similar to ourselves.  Therefore, relying solely on our friends for intellectual stimulation would lead to a narrowed viewpoint and lack of cognitive growth; without new ideas to challenge us, our minds could never develop outside of the small box we construct around it.

As everyone is now on the same page, let me return to my original topic, strong ties and privacy.  If we all lived in our own small world with just our closest group of friends and family, then do we still require privacy?  I wouldn’t mind my best friend seeing me when I’m sick and pitiful in my pajamas and crazy hair day (completely unrelated example, I swear), but I would not necessarily want to share that image with a near-stranger because ew.  This concept brings to mind a discussion I once had with a friend.  As I honestly can’t remember which friend, I’m going to just call her…  Mallory.  I don’t actually know anyone named Mallory, so that will work nicely.  Anyway, Mallory was telling me about how she was getting ready to go out with her husband and best friend one night, and both of them were waiting for her in the living room.  Mallory, in the process of getting dressed, walked out of her bedroom to say something to her friend.  Her husband, however, did not appreciate the fact that Mallory was only half-dressed at the time.  Mallory didn’t understand his irritation.  Both her husband and her female best friend had seen her at various stages of getting dressed — what was the big deal?  Apparently, her husband felt that it was weird for both he and Mallory’s friend to see that much of her at the same time.

I thought the story was quite interesting.  The concept of privacy is almost like a bubble that surrounds a person.  Every so often, someone else is allowed into this bubble.  However, if all the people with whom we are close were allowed into the bubble at the same time, how would the dynamic change?  For one thing, this is sounding dangerously close to a cult-like situation.  For another, though, what are the true implications for sharing private matters with more than one person at a time?  Like in the above example with Mallory.  Sharing what he thought of as a personal matter (aka his wife’s state of undress) with her best friend made Mallory’s husband uncomfortable.  For Mallory’s husband, there were too many people in Mallory’s privacy bubble at the same time.

In the case of social media, any number of people are invited into our own little privacy bubble at any given time, if available privacy settings are in use.  We choose a certain population to be privy to our thoughts, our faults, our actions and travels, and our friendships, along with a multitude of other things.  All of these people are taking up residence in our bubble, and we are sharing our “private” selves with them simultaneously.  Now, consider that our Facebook friends include acquaintances on the outskirts of our lives and not just our closest friends.  But what if our Facebook friends list did include only those with whom we were closest?  Would we care if we exposed ourselves (figuratively) to a group of our closest friends/family?  Would we care if they all saw us at our most vulnerable at the same time?  Would we all become exhibitionists within our own bubbles, flouncing around half-dressed and carrying on conversations with our husbands and best friends simultaneously?  Have I had too much Nyquil?  Likely.