I often wonder what it must have been like to attend college in the late 1800s. There is no doubt that studying and writing papers had to have been an easier task to accomplish then than it is here in 2011. Back then, there were no XBOX 360s, Bluray disc players, iPads, or social networks. A parent didn’t have to worry about their child spending countless hours playing Call of Duty: Black Ops and Angry Birds, watching an entire season of Glee in one sitting, or chatting with their friends on Facebook even while lying in bed. Don’t get me wrong friends, I LOVE technology. I’d be lost without my PS3 and iPhone/iPad. If Facebook and Twitter were to magically disappear overnight, some of us could be out of a job! My point though, is that there had to have been much less to distract a person from staying focused on the tasks that needed to be accomplished.
The Joker Argument
For those unfamiliar with the above reference, the Joker is the main protagonist in Batman lore. In every way, he is the antithesis to character of Batman. They are mortal enemies. Are technological devices and studying Batman and the Joker? Well, let’s examine the Joker Argument…
The idea that a person is less productive when their attention is divided is not a new one. Successful and effective multitasking is a myth. The brain does not work that way.
Studying, homework, doing research, and writing papers all involve the ability to focus for an uninterrupted period of time. Distractions cause that focus to be broken and once it’s broken, it may not be easy to get it back. Cal Newton, an MIT advisor, said that “Over the three years I’ve played this advisory role, I’ve noticed an alarming trend: The current crop of undergraduates, who went through high school in an era of Facebook and smart phones, is suffering from serious concentration issues. I receive an increasing number of e-mails from students who have an expert level knowledge on how to study, but are simply incapable of giving the task at hand more than a few minutes of concentration.”
This “multitasking” approach to just about every task is an epidemic with serious consequences. According to the CHIMe lab, the longer people have spent living this way, the harder it becomes to break this habit. It becomes increasingly more difficult to concentrate on hard tasks or assignments. This issue can have significant, long lasting effects well beyond school work.
The Starsky and Hutch Argument
Once again, for those unaware of my pop culture reference, Starsky and Hutch were a duo of fictional Southern California police officers. They were an inseparable team, and were also the very best of friends. You could also call this the peanut butter and jelly argument. As Frank Sinatra once told us, they “go together like a horse and carriage.”
Obviously, after the previous argument, it would be a huge stretch to say that studying, texting, social media, and playing video games go hand-in-hand. I think we all understand that there is a time for work and a time for leisure. There are however, noted benefits to using our various forms of technology while studying or working. For instance, Google searches are a much more effective and efficient way to research something than those old Encyclopedias we all had. Texting a colleague or classmate because you need help solving a particular issue is a handy tool, as is the ability to interact with a professor via Facebook should you need their assistance.
Jonah Lehrer of the New York Times said of the usefulness of the Internet, “(the Internet) provides us with access to a near infinitude of information.” Loosely translated, there’s a lot of information online. At this point though, it goes beyond just the internet. A device like the Kindle, which allows you to find any book that is sold on Amazon and directly upload it onto your compact, portable device, is quite the convenience. The days of carrying around 5 heavy textbooks and several notebooks are long gone; replaced by Kindles and iPads.
It may not be for the best; in fact it could even be detrimental to us, but studying and technology are now forever linked. Why? Simply, because it is easier to Google “who invented the cotton gin” than to search through a textbook. It is easier to email or Facebook chat a professor than it is to set an appointment and sit down with them in their office. Everything is at your fingertips. The days of laborious research are gone. The damage is irreparable at this point. There is no going back now. That doesn’t mean that we can’t scale it back and learn to control it. While we will undoubtedly use these tools to aid us in our studies and careers, they shouldn’t be cause for distraction. In other words, close your Facebook and Twitter pages while doing homework, turn your cell phone off when studying, and don’t have the television on in the background. Focus, focus, focus on the task and we can minimize the “multitasking brain” syndrome we have inflicted upon ourselves.