Doubtless, death is a loss. It deprives us of experiences and milestones, of time spent with our spouse and children. In short, it deprives us of all the things we value.
But here is a simple truth that many of us seem to resist: living too long is also a loss. It renders many of us, if not disabled, then faltering and declining, a state that may not be worse than death but is nonetheless deprived. It robs us of our creativity and ability to contribute to work, society, the world. It transforms how people experience us, relate to us, and, most important, remember us. We are no longer remembered as vibrant and engaged but as feeble, ineffectual, even pathetic.
PBS in the US calls them Generation Like in what seems like a fascinating series of programmes (which I haven’t seen yet because they’re behind a geographical firewall) which explores the ways in which young people’s identities are shaped by the things they are shaped to like.
Now we have the funeral of like by Dutch performance artist Daniel Rozenberg. The film asks us to consider the game of likes, (shares and follows) as part of a wider political economy in which we are the products not the producers and the game is heavily weighted in favour of those likely to profit from our attention.
There is little doubt that we are all struggling to focus on tasks without being distracted. Quiet reading is becoming more and more difficult as we fight the temptation to check our emails, Google some facts, or update a social media page. In fact there is evidence to suggest that our attention span is decreasing year on year: 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds in 2013. And to put that in context, the average attention span of goldfish is … 9 seconds! (Williams, 2014). Attention span is important. It’s the amount of concentrated time spent on a task without becoming distracted. Being able ‘to attend’ is a crucial skill for the achievement of any goal and it’s particularly important when we are learning something new.
The fact that we are struggling to pay attention is no great surprise given the amount of information available to us over the Web every minute (Tepper, 2012) and the fact that we carry the connection to that information in our pockets and our bags. It’s very, very easy to get distracted.
But you might say, “I can multitask and multitasking is an important skill that I need to develop. Checking my phone or surfing the web on my laptop/tablet while I’m listening to a lecture is just another way of practicing and improving that multitasking skill. I’m actually being more productive than I would be if I were simply listening to what you are saying”. Unfortunately, there’s been evidence for a while that multitasking is actually unproductive. Let’s review some of it.
Here’s MIT neuroscientist Earl Miller:
People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves. … The brain is very good at deluding itself (Hamilton, 2008).
Mostly we can’t concentrate on more than one thing at a time. What we can do is switch remarkably quickly between two different tasks and kid ourselves that we are still paying attention to both of them. It’s actually not a particularly surprising finding. Try talking on the phone and writing an email at the same time. Or adding up the price of your shopping while listening to the radio. The delusion however, is also quantifiable. Multitasking has a negative impact on educational performance of students at university:
Results from this study showed that, indeed, frequency of multitasking with certain ICTs (Facebook and text messaging) were negatively predictive of overall college GPA (Junco, Cotten, 2012).
It turns out that this negative impact is also mirrored by a negative impact on our ability to get things done one after another. Those who multitask their way through the day are actually losing their ability to concentrate on any particular task for the amount of time necessary to get it done.
People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time (Gorlick, 2009)
So far, so conclusive. However, there is one objection that needs responding to: “If I want to check my phone/laptop/tablet during class, I’m not harming anyone else. I’m old enough to decide what I want to do and hey, I’m the customer here, show me some respect.” I’ve never actually heard it expressed that directly, but it’s been implicit in some complaints about classroom rules and etiquette in the past. Let’s leave aside the idea of the customer for the moment.
The very nature of screens is that they exist in a nether world between the public and the private. In the open plan office I now work in it’s natural that when people walk past a desk their eyes are drawn to the screen beaming out from it. The same is true in class. Your screen, whether phone, laptop or tablet is a magnet for the attention of others. The phenomenon has been examined in the very context that we are discussing here and the conclusion is pretty emphatic:
The results demonstrate that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content. (Sana, Weston, Cepeda, 2013)
So, you are harming others – nobody in the lecture theatre or seminar room is some kind of island, isolated from everybody else and having no effect on everybody else. And this relates to the idea of customer respect or ‘why I’m here standing in a lecture theatre or sitting in a seminar room’.
I spend a lot of time thinking about how to engage you in such ways that you are less likely to concentrate on what’s out the window or passing down the corridor and more on what it is we are all thinking about together. It’s a competition for your attention and I like to think that when the ‘adversary’ is the outside world seen from the window, I’m in with a chance. However, when the distractions are created from those masters of distraction whose very business plan is premised on their ability to get you to pay attention to them, I’m simply not on the starting line. I can’t compete. Of course, I’m not the only one. We can’t compete. That’s why we sometimes feel like we’re being put on hold in the middle of a conversation with someone who answers their phone … or why we struggle not to respond to the ‘ping’ telling us that a new text/FB message/Tweet has arrived demanding our attention. Or we are drawn to somebody else’s laptop screen to check out their Facebook news feed. And this brings me to the customer/respect part of the argument. Learning is a collaborative enterprise, it’s not the exchange of a product or service for financial benefit. To be successful collaborations need the most appropriate conditions in which the coming together, the working together, can most effectively flourish. I’m suggesting that those conditions demand the greatest effort of collaborative and collective paying-of-attention that we can muster.
If we can’t build relationships, then we simply can’t learn with and from each other. Studies are beginning to emerge looking at the influence of constant connection on the development of family relationships. You might think these are all about how kids are constantly glued to their screens. In fact, they’re not. Research is showing how the automatic turn to the mobile phone by caregivers during mealtimes is robbing young children of the kind of attention that is vital to their development (Neighmond, 2014). Sherry Turkle has written convincingly on the topic in her book ‘Alone Together’ (Turkle, 2011). We need to work out how to sustain human connection in a world saturated with digital media. That’s an important challenge for you to meet as you work your way through your studies here in the Faculty. It is also a challenge to every person working in social care. And it’s not an easy one.
This media saturation is orchestrated by companies in a battle for our attention. The updates, the new models and innovations are designed to engage our attention. The reason is simple. We are their products. Our attention – texting, clicking a link, searching for a document, updating a profile, uploading a photo – is part of their business plan. Their interest is not friendship or ‘social’, it’s money; profit for the shareholders.
What I’m interested in is our education – yes, mine too. I really might learn as much from you as you might from me. Whether we do learn together is dependent on creating and sustaining relationships: me with you and you with different people in the group. To do that we need to focus and pay attention to each other and not the screens that surround us.
One of the central ideas that Jonathan Savage and I discuss in a book to be published in 2015, is that originality conceived as the ability of someone to produce something ‘new’ and innovative, is a distraction from the actual way that culture is created. Instead, creativity is more usefully understood as a social and collaborative process enhanced by recent innovations in networked communication technologies.
Nothing comes from nothing … We live in a world where stuff is made by combining and recombining cultural resources in an open-ended process of remix. In other words, all creative culture emerges from processes of plagiarism and literary debt. We do, actually, stand on the shoulders of giants. Here’s that argument made in a visually engaging way by Drew Christie in an animated opinion piece originally published in the New York Times in 2012.
And here’s what Drew Christie said about making the film:
In creating this Op-Doc animation, I copied well-known images and photographs, retraced innumerable drawings, then photocopied them as a way to underscore the un-originality of the entire process. (Un-originality — or, maybe, excessive originality — being very much in the news this week, as students of the creative process and Bob Dylan buffs are well aware.) My film is chock-full of unlabeled images that make cultural, artistic and literary references. Additionally, the two main characters are modeled to look like the Russian filmmakers Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Eisenstein. I hope this piece is at least unoriginal in an original way or perhaps even originally unoriginal.
I’ve recently been looking at some of the online tutorials that are now available for staff at MMU through the educational platform lynda.com. There’s nothing groundbreaking here though I have been enjoying the workshops on photography.
But why only staff? I’m not a fan of this differential in a learning community when it comes to resources; a little bit like saying a couple of floors of the library books are reserved for staff only. So, in a spirit of open learning, here are seven freely accessible online education sites that will expand the minds and spirits of staff, students and anyone in-between or beyond. Lynda, you’ve got competition!
Academic Earth was launched on the premise that everyone deserves access to a world-class education. In 2009, we built the first collection of free online college courses from the world’s top universities. The world of open education has exploded since then, so today our curated lists of online courses are hand selected by our staff to show you the very best offerings by subject area. We also make sure there is something for everyone: whether you want to explore a new topic or advance in your current field, we bring the amazing world of academia to you for free.
Starting out as free Youtube video collection to help with school maths homework – it’s now much, much more.
a global community of volunteers providing free online courses, face-to-face workshops, and innovative training programs on the meaning, application, and impact of “openness” in the digital age. Learn how to add a Creative Commons license to your work, find free resources for classroom use, open up your research, remix a music video, and more!
What happens when classroom teachers from every country in the world take part in a global community of sharing curriculum and best practices? Teachers are empowered to create extraordinary learning experiences for their students. Barriers to equal access to education begin to lift—geography and politics become immaterial. And the economy benefits from a highly educated population. That’s why we founded Curriki, a nonprofit K-12 global community for teachers, students, and parents to create, share, and find free learning resources that enable true personalized learning.
Here you will find a selection of ideas, thoughts and further resources arranged around the themes covered in our programme. Read our latest blog posts, get reading recommendations from our faculty, browse photos of recent events or watch past sessions online. You can browse by type of resource, or by subject. Simply click on a shelf heading to explore a range of items on that topic.
Lots of language learning exercises here including voice recognition input – great for vocabulary work and practicing pronunciation – but little in the way of conversation. Try a holiday for that!
There are over 300 self-paced courses here in everything from chemistry to social work. Worth a browse. There are also forums where you can talk to others on the course you’re studying – something that few of the other sites offer.