Tuesday, March 26, 2013
At least that's the goal of David Levy (no relation), a Professor at the U. of Washington Information School, in response to what some call "a radical shift in the nature of attention" that makes educators wonder whether today's students can muster the sustained concentration needed to read a lengthy Russian novel or write a polished research paper. Here's an excerpt from the Chronicle of Higher Ed story:
To complete her homework assignment, Meran Hill needed total concentration. The University of Washington senior shut the blinds in her studio apartment. She turned off the music. She took a few deep breaths.
. . . .
[Her] professor, David M. Levy, sees these techniques as the template for a grass-roots movement that could spur similar investigations on other campuses and beyond. Mr. Levy hopes to open a fresh window on the polarized cultural debate about Internet distraction and information abundance.
At its extreme, that debate plays out in the writing of authors whom the critic Adam Gopnik has dubbed the Never-Betters and the Better-Nevers. Those camps duke it out over whether the Internet will unleash vast reservoirs of human potential (Clay Shirky) or destroy our capacity for concentration and contemplation (Nicholas Carr).
On college campuses, meanwhile, educators struggle to manage what the Stanford University multitasking researcher Clifford Nass describes as a radical shift in the nature of attention. Mr. Nass, who lives in a freshman dormitory as a "dorm parent," sees that shift on students' screens. They write papers while toggling among YouTube and Facebook and Spotify. They text and talk on smartphones. They hang out in lounges where the TV is on.
. . . .
Amid this scampering attention, some fear for the future of long-form reading. That was a theme of a keynote speech at this year's conference of the American Historical Association by the group's departing president, William J. Cronon, a professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. Speaking to a ballroom of book-worshiping professors, the environmental historian expressed his anxiety about what he called "the Anna Karenina problem."
Within 20 years, he wondered, will students manage to muster the dozens of hours of attention necessary to get through a lengthy novel like Tolstoy's 19th-century classic? If not, what does that mean for works of history that are even harder to read?
. . . .
But Mr. Levy, a professor in the Information School at University of Washington, sees a problem with many discussions about what technology is doing to our minds.
"So many of those debates fail to even acknowledge or realize that we can educate ourselves, even in the digital era, to be more attentive," he says. "What's crucial is education."
. . . .
Continue reading here.