Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains essentially gets to this point (as do other writers on technology): We need to be aware of technology’s impact and effect on us, and make conscious decisions about its role and place in our lives. To be honest, Carr has not given me revelations to my own life that I didn’t’ know before, but the text (and this post) has forced me to think about it even more.
Lately, I have been feeling more anxiety in my studies, and in my life. My self-diagnosis points out two potential causes:
1. My insatiable use of technology as a student, teacher, and person
2. My inability to say “No.” (I’m working on this one.)
I am constantly perplexed by what I should do as a teacher, and user of technology. Admittedly, technology is ubiquitous to the point of transparency; and like Carr admits: it isn’t going away. In fact, it will become even more pervasive (invasive?). I can’t stop it, nor do I aim to. But what can I do as a teacher to cultivate humans who can think longer than 5 minutes?
1. Choose what to pay attention to. A part of me knows my anxiety is a result of how much technology I am using, but I have been unable to make any prescriptions for it. Carr states, “We cede control over our attention at our own peril” (p. 195). Reading Carr’s print book this week, I found myself more at peace and able to concentrate on what I was reading for longer periods of time, and I did not suffer the eye fatigue I have been experiencing lately. This upcoming week, with a manuscript draft due in a month and a grant proposal due in a week, I am going to “unplug” my reading and actually print off articles instead of reading and annotating them on my iPad. (I still want to store and index/tag them digitally, so I will need to take the extra step to scan these articles into digital files, but I think the extra step may be worth it.)
Carr mentions David Foster Wallace’s commencement address at Kenyon College in 2005 where Wallace discussed our “default settings” and states that we can choose what we pay attention to. This sounds incredibly empowering, right? We get to choose. Although after reading chapter eight “The Church of Google,” I am not so sure that’s completely accurate or possible.
2. Eliminate Distractions (A Futile Endeavor?) Because after reading each piece I immediately bring it back to me (I am self-centered in that way), I began to think of what I have potentially done to my students’ ways of thinking with regard to using the iPad. I have tailored the notification settings on all of my devices so I will not be interrupted as often as these tools want me to be; however, I haven’t addressed this with my own students. Here I have placed the ultimate distractor in their hands, and have not even taught them how to control it. I wonder if, in a sense, it is controlling them? This will be the first discussion on Monday.
Here is the question I seem to perpetually ask: Okay, so now what?
Here is how I imagine Carr would respond:
1. We pay attention.
2. We become sensitive to “what’s lost and what’s gained” with technology (p. 212).
3. We need time. We need time to “operate the machine and time to sit idly in the garden” as Carr refers to Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ruminations.
This is all good advice, but somehow I am still unsatisfied with this answer.