Choice has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

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.


7 thoughts on “Choice has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?

  1. Augh yes. Unplugging is something I’ve been looking forward to more and more each day. I have already planned to unplug during spring break, but I wonder how realistic this will be in the end. How much are these devices really controlling us, even if we do have the supposed power to control them?

    • I just checked out the article and thought that App is kind of cool. I was surprised at how many words I could read and still get the meaning.

      However, I’m fairly confident I couldn’t read “War and Peace” this way. But, maybe it would help me read more Christopher Moore.

  2. I always appreciate your willingness to interrogate your own teaching practices and the philosophies that inform them. I’ve been working on overall *mindfulness* lately, and technology definitely doesn’t help me pay more attention to the present. But at the same time, there are one million other, non-technological distractions in my daily life–people, noises, interesting visuals, weather, hunger, tiredness, emotions–with which I must contend. So I really like your take-away of *paying attention*, even if it’s easier said than done.

  3. Because my classrooms have never been 1-to-1, I haven’t really considered too much of the repercussions of students’ always having access. As I think about it now, I wonder what the results will be in the next few years as students go from being provided with technology and assistance to needing to provide it for themselves. I’m used to seeing the divide between my students and the tech they bring to school from the iPads to the clunkiest knockoffs ever. I wonder if the provision of technology will have some kind of detrimental effect after graduation when they socio-economic realities catch up with some of them and the devices they’ve become very comfortable with are now obsolete and they may not be able to afford the new models.

  4. I appreciated you considering your students this week especially. I, too, find myself making it about me, ha ha. I was interested in the way you’re thinking about the notifications and the built in distractor of it. I’m backpedaling on this very idea because in the past I’ve always had the notifications turned off, and never learned what I was actually missing–I was bothered by them because they were distracting. Now I’ve turned them on and look for customization on what’s important enough to disturb me. (I think of the mac’s Notification Center Do Not Disturb settings and how unrefined they still are…)

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