“Back when I was a kid we had far greater attention spans!” Well, whoopy-doo for you.
Youtube, TV, Commercials, Audio books and Facebook. The list of products that drive us into a pattern of ingesting only short-blips of information goes on and on. Some believe the consequence is a loss in our ability to pay attention to any lengthy (more traditional) format, and in their mind, anything of real value.
I take issue with that belief entirely. I’d rather ask this: Why is there a requirement to be able to pay attention to long-duration formated info in the first place, and what makes that info so much more valuable? Isn’t the goal of listening, reading, or watching information to comprehend it? Where does “length” and “staying still” play into that requirement?
As a kid people thought I had attention problems. I had tons of energy and not enough places to put it all, especially during school hours. Reading one long-ass book (that I had no interest in) for a class (I didn’t care much about) was not very motivating; I perceived writing in much the same way. Needless to say, I didn’t accel in those areas much.
For me, learning was just that — learning. It wasn’t a proof of my ability to sit still and do nothing for a long period of time, or to impress a teacher. Learning was all about answering questions, digging into things that interested me, and unraveling things that confused me. When the internet became “a thing”, I found myself ingesting tons of information daily, and it allowed me to pursue those questions with ease.
Fast forward a couple decades and I’m sitting here auditing an edX class at 2x-speed. I’ve skipped over a few sections that do nothing more than set the audience up for what’s coming (e.g. Boring. I get it. Let’s move on). And you know what? I love it — I love taking classes! As for reading, In this new environment of self-paced, kindle-based, materials I’ve found myself reading more books than I ever had in highschool. Even writing has become interesting to me. I started a blog 7-years ago to become a better writer, and, over 200 posts later, I’d like to think I have improved quite a bit. With all this interest in taking classes, reading, and writing, I have to ask myself: do I have an attention problem, or am I just terribly adverse to boredom (and the old, slow-moving, teaching styles)? Which led me to ask, why the hell would anyone want to be great at being bored in the first place?!
As our technology pushes us into a new format of learning, maybe it is less about “shut up and sit still”, and more about, “here is the world — have at it!”
It’s easy to think the world is getting dumber. We see “views” on YouTube of someone getting hit in the nuts soar into the millions, and people with obnoxious (or useless) things to say use social platforms to say them at scale. It is important to remember that with or without these new mediums people have been dumb for a long time. It is also important to keep in mind that the speed of advancements in technology are increasing exponentially. Those advancements push social media, but they also cut the time it takes to roast a turkey, pop popcorn, and provide classes to people like me that can now learn more efficiently than they ever have before.
I think learning was built on an extremely inefficient foundation because we didn’t have any other way to do it. Now, we are finally trimming the fat. The problem is, our kids are now able to eat lean beef but we are insisting that they still must chew the lard first. Why?
I say, take those little bits of data, re-arrange them, pause them, and fast-forward them as you wish. Let your curiosity for answers be the guide, not a demonstration in formalities.
We aren’t losing the art of education, we are deconstructing it and reassembling it through the gift of technology. The world has started to suit everyone’s individual pace, interest, and schedule. All the lost hours of dramatic pauses, introductions, segues or fluff are gained in the hours we can instead paint, exercise — or better yet — learn something entirely different.
Sure, it may mean that listening to a 1-hour speech at work will be more difficult for a person that is used to this newer, more efficient medium — but who’s fault is that? Why the hell are people talking for an hour anyway?! Is it necessary to achieve their objective? Are we simply committed to a style of interaction in the real world for no other reason than our attachment to tradition? Are we simply not yet ready to embrace a more efficient style of information-sharing that the digital world has built from the ground up? If you are looking for art and style, maybe you should go see a play.
As we move away from requiring our audience to sit down and shut up for an extended periods of time, let’s keep our goals in mind. We are not here to prove to others that we can sit through something that does not excite us, but to find out what does. It is not to prove we can endure boredom, but to break the shackles that required us to be bored in order to learn. It is time that we agreed to fight boredom, and recognize it as an old, outdated, emotion.