There is much talk about how kids (and adults!) are distracted by their digital devices simply because the learning is boring or not relevant… that if we only make it more engaging they won’t be checking their smartphones… that it is no different than doodling “old school style” with pencil and paper. I disagree. True, it’s far worse when the learning is dull and lacks meaning and relevance, but being so digitally and instantly connected to friends creates a continuous party in their pockets. One can’t always blame the teacher or the teaching. It’s just human nature at some point to want to remain part of the conversation in real time. Why do so many adults continue to text while driving despite the facts of the incredible danger it puts themselves and those around them in? Is it because they are bored? I have to continually practice self talk and self discipline in this regard, telling myself that the text, tweet, or e-mail can wait. I also practice this in front of my children, as there’s no worse teacher than a hypocrite.
As a recent example, I received a rather important DM in Twitter while driving. Rather than ignore it, I passed the phone to my son and told him to reply so that the individual wouldn’t think that I was just ignoring him. Had my son not been in the car and had I felt that it was important enough, I would have pulled over and replied, along with the information that I was driving and would reply more specifically later.
Instead, I think we need to place more emphasis on the teaching of mindfulness, attention literacy, and self discipline in this regard and stop placing so much blame on teachers and kids (or boring staff meetings…). These kids become drivers and employees, too. They need to acquire and practice these important attributes of mindfulness and attention literacy. We can’t always just distract them from their distraction by trying to engage them more. What about when they are at home? Doing homework? Reading? At the dinner table? In their house of worship?
This one researcher makes an interesting point about the digital divide and writes,
“… the digital divide is not about the gadget haves and have nots, but rather about those who can resist the constant distracting tug of technology and those who cannot.”
Now, of course, I am not arguing against creating learning environments that are relevant, invigorating, student-centered, and meaningfully complex and rich – where they can actually USE their devices to support their learning. What I AM saying is that all of the responsibility for one’s attention cannot be placed on something or someone else all of the time. Some of this is developmental, and at some point, learned behavior and choice.
As this article concludes,
“I don’t think the enemy is digital devices,” Goleman said. “What we need to do is be sure that the current generation of children has the attentional capacities that other generations had naturally before the distractions of digital devices. It’s about using the devices smartly [emphasis mine] but having the capacity to concentrate as you need to, when you want to.”