Education and Technology: A Constant Distraction

Posted on by Larry

[ This commentary was written for the Digital Production Buzz podcast for August 9, 2018. ]

I’ve been involved with technology all my life. Even when I was working in marketing, I was marketing software and explaining the benefits of the latest technology to new users.

There’s no doubt we are living in an age driven by technology. When I look around my classroom I can see how hard it is for my students to put down their cell phones and actually listen to what’s going on. Or I watch people at a restaurant spend more time taking photos of their food than eating it. Or I watch people walking down the street paying more attention to their cell phones than the scenery around them. It is obvious that technology is driving our lives; not just cell phones, but all technology.

Look at how isolated you feel when you are in an area with no cell service or when your laptop is not working.

As filmmakers, we use technology every day to create the stories we want to share with an audience. Equally, though, we are frustrated when that audience is too busy to pay attention to the stories we are telling. To say nothing of attention-spans that are measured in seconds, or our need for constant stimulation or, more accurately, distraction.

These are all examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences: we may not have planned for this to happen, but that’s the way it turned out.

What I find especially frustrating – especially when teaching college students – is how hard it is to get their attention. There are so many distractions today that they have become extremely good at tuning out whatever is not distracting them at that moment.

When I ask them to put their cell phones away for an hour class, its as though I was asking them to juggle fire, or insulting their mother.

Our audiences are the same – as communicators we have to work extra hard just to get their attention – whether for a commercial, program, or emergency announcement. And once we have their attention, it is almost impossible to retain it. Look at the number of times you are watching TV, reading your phone, and checking your computer – all at the same time. Yet, you are not paying full attention to any of them.

We live in an age of distraction – and, from all the signs, its only going to get worse. And this makes the process of education even more difficult.

Just something I’m thinking about.


6 Responses to Education and Technology: A Constant Distraction

  1. You will appreciate a fine book about education “what school could be” by Ted Dintersmith. I strongly recommend it to one and all.

  2. Charles Young says:

    Make your students wear cowboy hats and check their guns, (phones & computers) at the bar until they leave town, (class). A gigabit of prevention is worth a terabyte of cure. I learned this in the “OLD SCHOOL,” and in the submarine service. The Navy Nuclear Power School ,(in the 60’s) was “How school could and should be.”

  3. Constance Beutel says:

    Years ago I was teaching in a doctorate in education program. Having come from a high tech career, I designed a course called education and technology and asked students who were seasoned teachers and educational administrators to recall what they were most passionate about, whether social justice or a sport or? And to design a course around engaging that passion or interest while using existing or emerging technology. Sad to say, there were only a very few students who went beyond using smart boards or laptops…no VR goggles, 3D printers, real time on demand video mentors/experts.

    So, I think the first part of the ‘constant distraction’ dilemma is engaging or capturing the learner’s attention/passion and then bringing the knowledge or techniques to engage that passion. But what I fear underlies much of this is the inability of many to know what they are really excited about.

  4. Ron B says:

    I’m sorry, what were you saying?

  5. Quest Love said it best, “Dare I hesitate to say that creativity might be in jeopardy because one of the key components of being creative is boredom and silence and isolation.”

    How many times has that great idea popped into your head while taking a shower? Why? No distractions : )

    We’re all in the same boat, fighting distractions left and right all day long. I’ve recently put a block of time on my calendar once a week called “Sit in office and let mind wander for 30 minutes”

    First 3 or 4 times were so difficult, 30 min felt like 4 hours.

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