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Beeps, Flashing and Vibrations Inhibit Student Focusing

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posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 02:54 PM
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Recently my research team observed nearly 300 middle school, high school and university students studying something important for a mere 15 minutes in their natural environments. We were interested in whether they could maintain focus and, if not, what might be distracting them. Every minute we noted exactly what they were doing, whether they were studying, if they were texting or listening to music or watching television in the background, and if they had a computer screen in front of them and what websites were being visited.


Well this sounds interesting, and already I am picturing some fidgeting multi-tasking with no idle moments of stillness and quietness. Maintaining focus is something I have seen in teacher interviews discussing the topic. Many teachers are noticing a lack of thought continuity in papers and response from students, and feel that today's students are losing some of their attention span.


"The results were startling. First, these students were only able to focus and stay on task for an average of three minutes at a time and nearly all of their distractions came from technology. [By the way, other researchers have found similar attention spans with computer programmers and medical students."


3 minutes eh? I recall in a psychophysiology(1997) course that studies revealed during the 50's the average attention span was 50 minutes plus. Whereas todays(97) was 15 minutes. What I immediately thought and what became part of our discussion was why and the effects. While our (students)attention spans have without a doubt become reduced since the 50's, the course and presentation have remained the same. So imo this is where some of the ADD issues arise. We are trying to teach with antiquated methods that put a significant number of students in negative positions.


"The major culprit: their smartphone and their laptop were providing constant interruptions. We also looked at whether these distractors might predict who was a better student. Not surprisingly those who stayed on task longer and had study strategies were better students. The worst students were those who consumed more media each day and had a preference for working on several tasks at the same time and switching back and forth between them. One additional result stunned us: If they checked Facebook just once during the 15-minute study period they were worse students. It didn’t matter how many times they looked at Facebook; once was enough."


The phones are no surprise and should not be allowed during class, imo, but the laptop, a tool for learning can be a distraction too it seems. More media, worse student? Again with the multi-tasking behavior, which may not sound bad, but I have seen a study that actually tested their multi tasking abilities for competence, and the results were less than impressive. I guess the multi tasking can create inability to focus for longer periods, or offer any depth to the subjects of study.
Facebook every 15 minutes affects learning? Who'da thought.


So, what was going on with these students? We have asked thousands of students this exact question and what we hear is that when alerted by a beep, a vibration or a flashing image they feel compelled or drawn to attend to that distraction. However, they also tell us that even without the sensory reminder they are constantly thinking internally, “I wonder if anyone commented on my Facebook post” or “I wonder if anyone responded to my text message I sent 5 minutes ago” or even “I wonder what interesting new YouTube videos my friends have liked.”


A brave new world? Sounds like the phantom phone vibration syndrome.
But yea, this stuff is shaping our thought processes, and how we behave. Heck I can see where if these beeps, flashing and vibration were suddenly taken away, students may be left in a really uncomfortable position, almost with a distraction jonesing.


Neuroscience is just now starting to emerge as a means of studying the impact of technology on the brain. Consider these recent study results:

-Video game players show more volume in brain areas where risk and reward are processed but also less activity in areas dealing with emotional regulation and aggression PLUS more dopamine, which parallels what happens in an addict’s brain.
-Distracted brains show specific regions that are activated in the brain and more distractions tends to parallel more activity.
-Chinese youth who were addicted to the Internet showed more white matter in the areas of emotion, attention and control but also showed disrupted nerve cell connections in other areas of the brain.

More emotion and less overall connection in brain connections, sounds kind of dangerous to me. Man this stuff is like a drug it seems, reshaping the brain and abilities of so many.


I am convinced that learning to live with both internal and external distractions is all about teaching the concept of focus. In psychology we refer to the ability to understand when you need to focus and when it is not necessary to do so as “metacognition” or knowing how your brain functions. In one recent study we found a perfect demonstration of metacognition, albeit totally by accident. In this study we showed a video in several psychology courses, which was followed by a graded test. Students were told that we may be texting them during the videotape and to answer our text messages. In fact, one-third did not get a text message from us, one-third got four texts during the 30-minute video and the other third got eight texts, enough, we guessed, to make them not be able to concentrate on the video.


So it is not just the initial distraction, but processing those distractions can be a detriment too, when trying to learn/study. I am beginning to see how this is playing out and shaping the minds of our future. It sounds kind of scary, but I hope the there is a flipside to this coin and somehow good benefits in these transformative changes. My guess is thought, that they may not outweigh the negative aspects.


How do we teach focus in a world that is constantly drawing our focus elsewhere? One idea is to use “technology breaks” where you check your phone, the web, whatever, for a minute or two and then turn the phone to silent, the computer screen off and “focus” on work or conversation or any non-technological activity for, say 15 minutes, and then take a 1-2 minute tech break followed by more focus times and more tech breaks. The trick is to gradually lengthen the focus time to teach yourself (and your kids) how to focus for longer periods of time without being distracted. I have teachers using this in classrooms, parents using it during dinner and bosses using tech breaks during meetings with great success. So far, though, the best we can get is about 30 minutes of focus.

www.disinfo.com...

Disorder: Understanding Our Obsession with Technology and Overcoming It's Hold On Us

So should we change the way kids think, or adjust the teaching techniques to accommodate? Something has to give...

Peace,
spec




posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 02:55 PM
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An excellent documentary on some of this stuff is PBS Digital Nation.

Full Doc

Digital NationPBS Studies Tech And The Future



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:06 PM
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reply to post by speculativeoptimist
 


Interesting report.

I haven't watched the video in your second post, but I will later.

Every fiber in my being wants to blame the TV and fast, colorful commercials for children's shortening attention spans. I'd heard a while back that commercials were going to be 15 seconds long instead of 30, which would make attention spans worse, but I haven't noticed shorter commercials yet. In nature, most things move slowly and rhythmically, unless there's a storm or other such event. So, our brains have to speed up to keep up with the constant media storm. This isn't natural.

I didn't watch too much TV as a kid. My parents were always making us play outside. Although I'm a serious multitasker and have to have at least a couple of things going on at once usually, my attention span is average. Lately, I've even started turning the radio off in my car and it seems to help relax me as I'm driving. Just being in the car in silence with only my thoughts actually keeps me from getting angry when someone cuts me off or does something else stupid. I always see people texting though. I think texting is the dumbest invention ever. In a society that wants everything as fast as possible, why do people choose to text over talking? It's a whole lot quicker to simply say, "Hey, I'm calling to say I'll be late 'cause traffic is backed up", then text it. So, why is a slower form of communication the preferred method?

Again, very interesting study and I'll probably comment on the video when I'm done watching.
edit on 10-4-2012 by Afterthought because: (no reason given)



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:15 PM
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reply to post by speculativeoptimist
 


But I wonder....... what if their IQ's were tested? I remember when my IQ was tested as a child, and I maxed out the math, vocab, grammar type questions, but I bombed the current events, pop culture, and politics type questions. As a result, I still ended up in the gifted classes in elementary school, and Math Counts, etc., but I made a personal, conscious effort to begin paying attention to names of music artists, movie actors, and I began to watch .lines in the paper and watch the evening news.

I've never had an IQ test since then, but I wonder if my overall IQ is better or worse as a result?

Of course, if they were tested on the singular subject at hand, the kids that put 15 minutes into that singular subject would perform better than the ones that went back and forth between multiple tasks, but what about their overall knowledge and overall learning ability? What about their longterm mental acuity? What about future afflictions such as Alzheimers? What about driving records or success in careers?

What if the multi-tasking is making them better equipped to deal with the real world we live in, better socially equipped to converse and interview well, and better at handling a life full of constant distractions?



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:17 PM
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reply to post by getreadyalready
 


From my experience as a 9th grade teacher, most kids can't even sit still or concentrate long enough to get through an IQ or knowledge assessment test. Their thoughts are always wandering and keeping on task is a real challenge.



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:22 PM
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Originally posted by Afterthought
reply to post by getreadyalready
 


From my experience as a 9th grade teacher, most kids can't even sit still or concentrate long enough to get through an IQ or knowledge assessment test. Their thoughts are always wandering and keeping on task is a real challenge.


Sure, by 9th grade, if there was a female with any remote possibility of just walking by a doorway, my attention was on the doorway!


But, I was able then, as well as now, to study effectively with music playing in my ears, a television on in the room, and thoughts of Friday night playing through my ., and during college I found Patron shots made Calculus much easier to absorb! I think it softens the brain tissue just the right amount.



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:28 PM
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reply to post by Afterthought
 

I was hoping some teachers would chime in on this, and I have invited some others too.


Every fiber in my being wants to blame the TV and fast, colorful commercials for children's shortening attention spans.

My thoughts exactly! During that psychophysiology course, we were asked what we thought contributed to the shortening attention spans, and yes, tv/media was the biggest influence. Now back in 97, I started counting seconds with tv images and then it was around 6-10 seconds. These days if you flip on the tv and just count image duration, you will rarely get past 2 to 3 seconds. My question is, where is the end for this? Will it get even quicker? I would guess yes, and again I wonder about both the negative and positive potential, which seems to come with any progression, but how will it weigh out in the end for all of us and our well being?


So, why is a slower form of communication the preferred method?

Trend or fad has settled in maybe? The novelty of texting weighs heavy I suppose, plus people do not have to be grammatically or cohesively correct/accurate, which may support the intention.

Thanks for the reply Afterthought and you will find, among many other interesting facts, in that doc, that even MIT student's multi-tasking was occurring, it was not deemed efficient enough.

spec



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:29 PM
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reply to post by getreadyalready
 


I realize that people have different study methods, but you specifically mentioned testing. From my personal and professional observations, most students find tests too long, boring, and unnecessary. They may give the test an effort for the first two or so pages, but after that, most will "Christmas tree" the remainder of the answers.

Regarding 9th grade mentality, the opposite sex is not even a factor here. They simply don't want to be forced to pay attention to anything that is being taught to them most of the time. They want to listen to their iPod, text on their phones, doodle, or daydream. It's just a matter of what they would rather do instead of what they're being expected to do. It seems as though most students do have an aversion to authority figures. I also had this growing up and still do, but I always wanted to do well on tests. Most students don't care about them anymore.



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:34 PM
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reply to post by speculativeoptimist
 


You're quite welcome and I'm glad to hear that you've also come to the same conclusion about the TV.

In regards to fast moving technology, most new parents I've known have shunned the TV and don't want their child(ren) watching it at least until they're five years old. Most parents with babies/infants/toddlers prefer the Baby Einstein technology because the pictures move slowly and there aren't any bright, flashing lights. They say that this promotes healthier brain development and I certainly can't argue with that!



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:36 PM
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reply to post by getreadyalready
 

Not sure about the IQ tests gra, but I too am curious and will dig a bit to try and find out.


but I made a personal, conscious effort to begin paying attention to names of music artists, movie actors, and I began to watch .lines in the paper and watch the evening news.

It is funny, I was just thinking about what information really stuck during my school years, and some of it was band member names and song lyrics, locked in forever. Perhaps the great marketer's realized this and began delivering information this way, quick, sensationalized and in your face presentations.



but what about their overall knowledge and overall learning ability? What about their longterm mental acuity? What about future afflictions such as Alzheimers? What about driving records or success in careers?

According to the MIT study, covered in Digital Nation, the overall ability to both obtain and store information was hampered by modern multi-tasking. I too am curious about the other things you mention. I mean this stuff affects out brian circuitry and development. I think everything has shifted to a more visual conveyance as opposed to literature and lecture.



What if the multi-tasking is making them better equipped to deal with the real world we live in, better socially equipped to converse and interview well, and better at handling a life full of constant distractions?

In studies, it seems to be a detriment, but in life, personally I can see some advantages, but I still wonder about the capacity for learning and absorbing necessary materials for success.

spec



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:39 PM
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reply to post by Afterthought
 



Regarding 9th grade mentality, the opposite sex is not even a factor here. They simply don't want to be forced to pay attention to anything that is being taught to them most of the time. They want to listen to their iPod, text on their phones, doodle, or daydream. It's just a matter of what they would rather do instead of what they're being expected to do. It seems as though most students do have an aversion to authority figures. I also had this growing up and still do, but I always wanted to do well on tests. Most students don't care about them anymore.



I'm not a teacher, although my brother is a 10th grade math teacher, and my wife's best friend is a 10th grade history teacher, but I don't have personal experience except for my own.

I feel like you are lumping an awful lot of good students into one basket. Many students (such as myself at that age) excel on tests, and it is everything else they hate. I never did homework, I paid attention in class, I gave the teacher respect, I cared about my grades, and I aced every test. The subject matter is dumbed down to the students you are stereotyping, so for those of us that did pay attention school was very easy. College is a lot different, and the material is not dumbed down, and there is no nanny-teacher to make everyone turn their work in on time, and it is a huge wake-up call for some students (including me).

In my opinion, it is a travesty that we don't prepare our kids better for real life. We could prepare them for blue-collar work, or college life much better than what we do now. We drop the ball in both aspects, and it is because we lump all the kids into one basket.



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:46 PM
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reply to post by Afterthought
 


I am a fan of older movies from the 60's and 70's and man what difference in scene progressions! Movies provide a good reflection of our thought capacity/behavior, imo, and some scenes were a full ten minutes!
Whereas today, so many are all 3 second flashing. I am trying to figure out the nurture/nature application here, and it gets a bit fuzzy because of the cause and effect aspect, but I feel, that marketing is hugely responsible for shaping societies thought processes, and I don't think their intention is to better society. Maximum novelty is exploited for attention and grabbing effects, making attention getting the priority over the quality of message delivered.

I am glad to hear that parents are aware of and restrict tv watching to some degree. The sad thing is, what about all the children that do not get healthy parenting, and how we will all be immersed in the same world, but with widening differences in perspective and behavior. Can't help think about the flick Idiocracy here, but I hope the opposite unfolds and more parents will manage their children's exposure to marketing and media.

spec
edit on 10-4-2012 by speculativeoptimist because: (no reason given)



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:47 PM
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reply to post by getreadyalready
 


I guess I should state at this time that my students were the ones with behavior problems who didn't want to be at school. This is why I'm saying "most" when I'm referring to the ones who are most distracted with technology. Although, the teachers that I worked with who had main stream students reported roughly the same things when we'd talk. Taking iPods and cell phones away was a daily occurance for all of us. The truly sad part is that the students who really wanted to learn don't get the attention they need. It's the students who are misbehaving who get the most attention. With my students, they were the ones in foster care or one parent families. These students were starved for attention, so even negative attention from the teacher was attention. They'll take it any way they can get it. Breaks you heart to hear how their home lives are. Some even get detention on purpose so they don't have to go home so early in the day.



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 03:55 PM
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reply to post by speculativeoptimist
 


Very true! It's not difficult to see the difference in movies. Not to mention commercials. Commercials used to be slower while the colors and sounds were more natural. Now, they're flashy, loud, and obnoxious.

One thing that bugs the crap out of me is when I go out to eat and see parents allowing their kids to play video games at the table. As if this isn't bad enough, I've even seen one pre-teen with his laptop in front of him at a fancy resteraunt and another kid who's parents set up a portable DVD player for him. My parents never would've let this happen. We were taught how to behave while out to eat. Even at home, the TV went off at dinner time. Lunch was much more relaxed and often the TV was on while we ate. Dinner was a time to catch up with each other and talk about our days. How many families do you think have real sit down dinners where they talk in today's time? My guess is about 35% (in America).



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 04:07 PM
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reply to post by Afterthought
 


Man are we just getting old or what?
Every family gathering these days, the adults are scolding the kids, "no cell phone at the dinner table!" I watch my nieces and nephews and they are like crack .s with their phones, and when the phones are taken away temporarily, they behave again like crack .s. I have given this much thought, and though it may be optimistic delusion, I personally feel that the pendulum will again counter swing and we will return to more personal communicating. But then again, it is currently so ingrained in 2 generations, that it may be the inevitable direction, making longer thoughts and communications a vestige, like the appendix.

I suppose with so many other accelerated innovations/tech, this all may fit into place and be a natural(?) part of our evolution. Maybe the day will come where we are all connected and can read each other's thoughts, either via ESP or the ability to have our thoughts texted or written/expressed immediately as they arise, becoming our new way of communicating.

It is indeed interesting times, and I hope we can hang onto some values from yesterday while ushering in the hyper speed reality modalities.



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 04:22 PM
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reply to post by speculativeoptimist
 


I do feel old! It seems that times are changing faster than I can or want to keep up. I'm still the type of person who wants a phone for a phone, a computer for internet, and a TV for watching shows. Somehow, I keep missing the train for today's society.


The only time I've used my phone for the internet is when I was working out of town for six months. I figured this was much more secure than leaving my laptop in the hotel room. But, I digress.

I just don't see why parents would rather have their kids distracted during mealtimes and gatherings. Have they really let them get this far out of their control that they have given up on trying to get their kids to engage in a mealtime conversation? I can remember when my sister and I would get bored at the table in a resteraunt, we'd start kicking each other under the table. That never lasted long though and Mom would always give us "the look" and we knew she meant business! Now, it seems moms are most likely to say, "Stop kicking your sister and pay attention to your video game."

How did we ever last in the car on family vacations without cell phones and handheld video games?
Oh, that's right. We had Walk-mans.


I have to say that I've agreed with everything you've said until this:

Maybe the day will come where we are all connected and can read each other's thoughts, either via ESP or the ability to have our thoughts texted or written/expressed immediately as they arise, becoming our new way of communicating.

Nooo!!!! I curse the day we can read each other's thoughts! This will truly be the day that I make a tin foil hat and wear it everywhere. Unless I'm at an airport getting felt up by the TSA. Then, I'd want them to know exactly what I'm thinking.



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 04:23 PM
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I wanted to add about the current education set up. Shouldn't we dramatically modify our school systems to both accommodate these changes as well as hopefully minimizing the ADD and HADD issues. A meeting more in the middle of things somewhere perhaps. This great divide of changing minds juxtaposed with an antiquates system continues to separate and putting so many in position of dependence of things like pharmies and psych evaluations, where kids get labeled, categorized and made to feel like outcasts. Plus the parents are made to feel that their child is the sole problem. What breaks my heart is our
Generation RX.





posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 04:31 PM
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reply to post by speculativeoptimist
 


I definitely agree that today's easily accessed technology is having a detrimental effect on our students.

But there's more to consider. The frontal lobes of the brain don't finish developing until around the age of 25. Guess what skills the frontal lobe is responsible for?

Attention
Time Management (I have 30 minutes to finish, I should spend five minutes per problem)
Organization (I know where my things are)
Prioritization (this is due tomorrow, that is due next week, I need to do this first)
Working Memory
Impulse Control (throttle your friend or not)
Flexibility (Can you handle unforseen complications or do you freak out)
Empathy
Meta-Cognition (thinking about your thinking)
Goal Tending (If I want an A, I have to complete the project and the paper)
Task Initiation (Let's get started)

As a person matures, these skills gradually begin to come "on line," so to speak. Of course, its quite normal to be stronger in some areas than others (I have great empathy and flexibility, but my organization is...bad). So students are still developing these skills during the school and college years.

Something else to keep in mind with regards to teens. Young people approx 12-20ish practically "live" in their Limbic System of their brain. This system focuses on answering the question "Am I loved?" All teenagers want acceptance from their peers; one of the reasons high school can be absolute hell. Add to this the constant concern over Facebook comments, text messages, and the rest...its a recipe for disaster.

I have a five year old son who is ADDICTED to the computer. I do not use that word lightly. When he wastwo and a half years old, he told someone to "Google" it when they asked him a question he did not know. If we would allow it, he'd spend the entire day on the computer.

So I've put him on a Sensory Diet. This diet reduces the amount of stimulation he has during critical moments of the day, along with alternatives in place to help him regain focus as needed. (BTW, I use a majority of these with my students as well).

First, no computer, television, gameboy, ipod or anything before school. These things stimulate the brain and can cause problems when its time to transition to a lesser-liked activity (like going to school). In the car, we listen to classical music or drumming music. Sometimes we listen to stories. Once at school, he goes straight to his classroom and completes five different tasks on his desk. The tasks are always the same and rarely vary. This familiar routine is important, b/c it lets him know what to expect next. Throughout the day, during transition times, he returns to his desk and completes one of his tasks. These tasks include finding the ten beads in some putty, making patterns with pop-beads, using modeling clay to form letters, squeezing and stretching the long muscles of the upper body. As much as possible, we keep the flourescent lights off and use sunlight to illuminate the room. We take frequent "brain breaks" to stretch, even do a couple of yoga poses with deep breathing. You'd be surprised how much your focus improves after a three-minute stretch break.

Students need to be taught how to focus on a task, and that really should begin at home before school age. When I taught the middle grades, students were only allowed to have a phone in their bookbag in their locker. If a phone was in the classroom, we confiscated it. Once we put that policy into place, focus improved.

S&F OP, another great topic as usual!



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 04:37 PM
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reply to post by speculativeoptimist
 


Thanks for posting that trailer and I'd like to watch the entire video. It's scary the way the War on Drugs has morphed to the point where they are pushing these psyche drugs that were never meant nor designed for young, developing minds. Street drugs = bad, while strong psychiatric drugs = normal and good. It's a true shame.
Just like the narrator says, it is a chemical lobotomy that they're giving to America's youth.
Parents and doctors need to wake up and stop allowing Big Pharma to drug our youth.

I would say that only about 10% or less of the youth require psychiatric medication. Some of these kids simply need attention, structure, retraining, and counseling to get to where they can function properly. The rest don't need any of this. They are kids who's parents are relying on a chemical babysitter so they don't have to pay so much attention and can have more peace and quiet.



posted on Apr, 10 2012 @ 04:38 PM
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Those of us who were exposed to the NY Times magazine may have noticed a large front-page article featured which was entitled "The Hyperaddictive, Time-sucking, Relationship Busting, Mind Crushing Power and allure of silly digital games." I think if you can snag a copy somewhere (I don't know if it's digitally available") it may be an interesting supplement to the excellent material you've shared.

Once upon a time, my wife and I visited a distant family members home. We were to sit for the vacationing friends, and keep an eye on their children (with whom we get along well.)

One night, after dinner, we were going to watch a television show they had been anticipating... and I foolishly engaged in a habit of mine... when the commercials come on, I mute the TV (I hate the sleazy trickery of commercial marketing). I sensed that I had committed some blasphemy against the streaming audio-visual ... they kids were not happy. I asked if they wanted to watch the show or the commercials, they said both.

I felt affirmed that there must be an addictive element to the whole commercial media construct.

Now,. I too am a relatively old codger ... so I remember how the "personal computing" phenomenon started and took root. Here's the problem with new digital appliances like laptops and smartphones (there's really no difference other than size) .. they are being pumped full of distraction toys... toys that should probably only be accessed between the moments of one's life... but since they are always available ... they are accessed constantly.

Also, we have disengaged the part of our minds that 'works' to find, process, and retain information. Information is now largely "pumped" to us... requiring only our physical presence to be considered "DELIVERED." And the educational system is loving this.... teaching by video; commercially produced documentaries are offered as part of a curriculum, anything that makes the transfer of knowledge a "one-person" affair... to a lazy teacher "telling you" is all they have to do... your comprehension is your own problem.

Then there is the multi-tasking phenomenon. Some worship it, others revile it. Multi-tasking was the purview of the specialist in days past, requiring experience and a commitment to responsibility... now it's an everyday affair; texting, driving, eating a burger, listening to the radio... it's daily now.

And why can we blame the mind faced with either a dry half-hearted lesson or the flashing indicator that you've an email from a friend or family member?

Moving out to the indoctrination most of us are subject to by television, our constant companion, our ever-present
"background" provider, we have no moments of introspection aside from the tiny portion of time between laying down and falling asleep.

Personal digital appliances are things which require a responsible approach... or at least not an unreasonable one.

I think our children would grow to enjoy better faculties if they knew what an hour of silence felt like... if they walked in a park, if they learned to be alone without being desperate to 'hear' from someone or something, maybe gardening.... anything that let's you think on your own.

This is one development in the human condition that only the individual can remedy. There will be no solution in the form of a pill (although I'm sure they're marketing one already), it isn't about faith or ideology, it isn't about regulations or laws... this one is on "us" to fix.

I think we can. I just don't know if many people really want to. It's more work than watching the game.



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