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Week 3: Do I Have Your Attention?

In class this week I shared some tips for using Twitter, but if Twitter hasn’t “clicked” for you yet, I recommend reviewing the following sites:

We’ll check in on our Twitter adventures on Monday, so here’s a mini assignment to complete this weekend: follow at least five new people who regularly tweet on a particular topic. For instance, if you want to use Twitter to keep up with campus news and events, follow a few of the accounts on the university’s list. Or use a hashtag search to find out who is regularly tweeting about your favorite sport, television show, band, etc. And remember, when you tweet about something related to our class, be sure to use the class hashtag: #engl3984

Next week, our class discussions will focus on the digital literacy of “attention” and our workshop sessions will help you polish your digital literacy narratives. Here are a few more details for each day:

  • Before you come to class on Monday, please read pages 35–75 in Howard Rheingold’s Net Smart, and Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” Following the pattern we established last week, leave a comment on this post that contains a passage from one of these texts that you want to discuss in class on Monday. (Leave your comment no later than Sunday night, and if it’s relevant, connect your comment to one of your classmate’s comments.) You other assignment for Monday is to record a rough audio file of your digital literacy narrative and to collect the images you plan to use to illustrate your narrative. You don’t need to arrange the images in PowerPoint yet — just save them to a single folder, keeping track of your sources as you go. You’ll find links to public domain and Creative Commons images on the Resources page. Try to find images that are at least 1280 pixels wide — we’ll talk about why resolution matters in class on Monday.
  • On Wednesday, we will spend most of class in workshop mode, so you should have a complete draft of your digital literacy narrative before you come to class. (“Complete” means that all of your images are arranged in your PowerPoint file and your revised narrative has been recorded.) [Update: Remember to bring your headphones, too!] We will also discuss one short article, “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus,” by Clay Shirky (pages 236–41 in The Social Media Reader), so be sure to read it and bring your SMR to class.

If you have questions about these plans, or if you need help with your literacy narrative, please come see me during office hours (Monday 8–11 and Tuesday 1–4) or send me an email. (Big hint: it’s much less painful to have me look at your draft during office hours than to be surprised by my evaluation of your project after you turn it in.)

Posted in Weekly Updates
26 comments on “Week 3: Do I Have Your Attention?
  1. Eli says:

    “People multitask because they believe they can get more done, but Nass has solid evidence that the opposite is usually the case.” –Net Smart, page 37

    A perfect example of this is texting while driving. People think they can get from one place to another and send a message at the same time. Unfortunately, all too often, many of these people do not reach their destination when they would have wanted to.

    • Katie says:

      “When you shift your attention, there is always a short interval during which you must reorient, refocus, and filter out competing information in order to move from one stable theme to another, whether you move from remembering your keys to saving your baby,or from working on a report to reading your email…’Gloria Mark, professor of informatics at the University of California at Irvine, has studied the effects of workplace interruptions and found that it can take up to half an hour to regain concentration on a central task afterward.’

      You never really think about how long it will take you to go from focused to surfing the internet, but the fact remains that while getting distracted is incredibly easy, coming back from distraction to attention is incredibly difficult. This is something that I found to be interesting because that often happens to me – I start out reading the webpage for a class, and then by the end of the time block, I am reading a natural horsemanship article, or searching for my dream horse, and these types of things generally happen before I even realize that I have slipped out of direct attention to classes.

  2. “Once I was a scuba diver in the sea of words. Now I zip along the surface like a guy on a Jet Ski” (Is Google Making Us Stupid?).

    Carr was referring to Marshall McLuhan’s observation on the way people in take whatever they are reading. We skim through words; I was taught how to do that in high school. The thing I loved about this quote is the visual words he used to describe the way he reads now. I couldn’t help to agree. Even this article, with many long paragraphs, my brain was trained to just skip over the unnecessary words to get to the key information. When I am reading a nail biting novel it is different. I get lost in a sea of words when it is to my interest.
    The thing I do question however is does the way we write change due to the instruments we use to write them?
    “’Perhaps you will through this instrument even take to a new idiom,’ the friend wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, his “‘thoughts’ in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper’” (Is Google Making Us Stupid?).

    I believe so.

    • I think Ashley makes a great point in bringing up the fact that we were all taught how to skim read at some point in our lives. I’m a Communication major at Tech studying electronic print journalism and I took a course that focused on writing articles for the web and how the format completely changes. You write the most important pieces of information at the top and summarize everything. Afterwards, you can get into the details and tell a story. The first couple paragraphs are about getting your point across as soon as possible because readers are skimming and only looking for quick summaries. The summary tells the reader whether or not they should continue to keep reading or move on to another story.

      I actually pulled out a quote right before the “jet ski” line which said, “And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” I think this goes back to our class discussion the other day which questioned whether or not bad powerpoint presentations should be blamed on the technology or the user. I think this article is again blaming the technology and I have to disagree. Yes, I think to some extent we all follow the trend of skimming and jumping around from page to page, but is that really the Internet’s fault? Or have we just become lazy and let the convenience get the best of us?

      • Whoops, forgot the attribution: “And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for concentration and contemplation.” (Is Google Making Us Stupid?)

  3. Dylan Amick says:

    “Stone names this behavior “continuous partial attention, an always-on, anywhere, anytime, any place behavior that involves an artificial sense of constant crisis.” She sees the smart-phone-and-laptop-using world seized by a new “dominant attention paradigm,” characterized by what she calls “Semi-sync” communication, somewhere between synchronous and asynchronous, with varying degrees of simultaneous or overlapping connectivity for different social circumstances…”

    NetSmart pg. 58

    What he is talking about here is the idea that our generation as a whole has lost any sense of priority due to our constant connectivity and availability; as such we are, as he says “In a constant state of crisis,” because everything is constantly top priority. I am guilty of it as well, the second my phone beeps I have to check who has messaged/called/emailed me immediatly-I am convinced that every message is life or death, even when I know it is just my roommate asking when I am getting home.

    I find this fascinating because I worked a job over the summer, and my supervisor’s inability to prioritize and express what was actually the most important goals of the day was infuriating. But when I do the same thing, and ask the real world to hold while I check a new comment on facebook it does not even phase me. Attention control and discipline has been an extremely interesting subject to read about.

  4. Astleigh says:

    The attention of breathing mentioned in “Net Smart” was intriguing. Who knew that, “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means o take hold of your mind again.” _Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness, 1975

    I have used concentration on my breathing to allow myself to fall asleep, when I struggle to do so. But I have never considered breathing techniques for when my mind feels scattered and too involved in multi-tasking.

  5. Augusta says:

    “If you don’t know how to be alone, you will always be lonely. If you’re always connected, from the age of eight, your default position is to only be connected and you don’t learn the restorative virtues of solitude.” -Net Smart pg. 50, a quote from Sherry Turkle

    This quote relates perfectly to our class discussion from last week in which we observed the basket of cell phones that was collected when a group of teenaged girls got together.

  6. Ethan says:

    “’I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,’ he wrote earlier this year. A pathologist who has long been on the faculty of the University of Michigan Medical School, Friedman elaborated on his comment in a telephone conversation with me. His thinking, he said, has taken on a “staccato” quality, reflecting the way he quickly scans short passages of text from many sources online” (Is Google Making Us Stupid?).

    • Dylan Amick says:

      I actually have a few issues with this article; to an extent I feel that Carr contradicts himself-he says that the internet has us reading faster and skimming through information, and as such our ability to understand text is depleting. But I would argue, that this change gives us a greater understanding of text; we are learning to adapt to the current demands of information.
      “My mind now expects to take in information the way the Net distributes it: in a swiftly moving stream of particles.” -Carr

      I do not believe it is a sad fact that we no longer need to bear through entire books in search of one paragraph of knowledge; with the never ending sum of information that now exist I feel it is important to know how to skim and sift through information and focus in on what is truly relevant.

      As far as having trouble staying focused on longer writings; as someone who does not consider himself a very avid reader I do not have a problem staying on track with a great book or a fascinating article-I get lost in it sometimes. When I’m in the middle of a Chuck Palahniuk book, good luck getting a hold of me! Perhaps this surge in efficient reading has simply lowered our tolerance for poor or undesired reading.

      I am not attacking Ethan or trying to argue facts; our attention spans have shrunk; some even jest that they now think in “150 characters or less.” What I take issue with is the negative light that these facts are being seen through. That we as a society and audience should feel bad for changing, and really evolving with the times. Is it not the job of any art to not only reflect but change with the times and society it is born in?

      Perhaps in the grand scheme this is more than a change in ourselves, but also a change in the current literary movement. Some writers have prided themselves in concise writings; I doubt Steinbeck or Raymond Carver blame Google for their styles of writing.

      Sorry for the rant and I hope it wasn’t too much of a tangent. I am just really getting into all these readings.

  7. George says:

    Nicholas Carr’s Atlantic article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”

    “Thanks to the ubiquity of text on the Internet, not to mention the popularity of text-messaging on cell phones, we may well be reading more today than we did in the 1970s or 1980s, when television was our medium of choice. But it’s a different kind of reading, and behind it lies a different kind of thinking—perhaps even a new sense of the self.”

    I agree wholeheartedly with Carr’s assertion that text on the Internet is ubiquitous. There’s text everywhere we look online, and we as consumers cannot avoid it. It’s weird to think about, but in a way, we truly are reading more now than 30, 40 years ago, especially with the influx of text messaging and social media. Think about how much we “read” on Facebook and Twitter today.

    Now, what is considered genuine reading is the dichotomy. Maryanne Wolf, a developmental psychologist at Tufts University, says, “we are not only what we read, but how we read.” She says that how we read online puts “efficiency and immediacy” ahead of everything else, so our capacity for reading is weakened. Also, she says we are only “mere decoders of information.” So even though we technically may be reading more, essentially we aren’t because it’s not genuine reading.


    • Brooks Tiffany says:

      I’d have to agree with her. We may read much more today, but the fact is, most of is indeed facebook, twitter, scrolling headlines, advertisements, and so on…and most of this stuff is essentially useless to us so we read and discard, read and discard. So while we may be reading more and more, we are retaining less and less.

  8. George says:

    I thought this was fitting since the topic of Internet addiction came up briefly last class.

    NetSmart pg. 46

    “Is the compulsion to check up frequently on our online connections an addiction problem? I want to be careful when using the word addiction, which is also used for serious physiological dependencies. Nevertheless, some aspects of social media behavior that many of us experience bear an uncomfortable resemblance to graver compulsions.”

    Rheingold goes on to include how Tony Schwartz in the Harvard Business Review says that information overload is our fault; that we bring it on ourselves. Schwartz shared an anecdote. He told the story about a young man who told him that he agreed with Schwartz when he said that doing things at one time is more valuable. But then the young man says even though I agree, I can’t do it. The young man said, “if I get an email, I have to look at it.” Schwartz asked if he considered turning it off at times throughout the day and the young said he doesn’t think he can because he would obsess at what he’s missing.

    So I ask you now after hearing that anecdote, is Internet addiction real? Can you relate to the young man in the story? I know I couldn’t go a couple of hours without checking my text messages, email or even Twitter, but is that really an addiction?

  9. Marcus says:

    “When you shift your attention there is always a short interval during which you must reorient, refocus, and filter out competing information in order to move from one stable theme to another…” (Net Smart, pg 39)

    I’m not sure I understand the context of this statement. What is a stable theme? I don’t think I buy this idea. For example, when I’m at work (at a coffee shop) I can manage different tasks with no hesitation between them some times. Sure, I’m high as a kite on caffeine, but at that point I’m relying on something like muscle memory, which allows me to keep looping all these actions without getting distracted. I understand, though, if this does not count as “moving from one stable theme to another,” if a stable theme is something that isn’t completely mindless.

  10. Molly says:

    “I now have almost totally lost the ability to read and absorb a longish article on the web or in print,’ he wrote earlier this year. e” (Is Google Making Us Stupid?).

    I admit I’m guilty like most people that my attention span is often shortened and distracted by my phone, what’s going on in the social media world or even what my roommates are talking about rather than focus on my what is in front of me. I’m not sure if reading this article and the Net Smart pages made it more tempting to be all over the place with distractions or if I just noticed it more. I found myself on facebook, online shopping, cooking and car shopping.

    If I were able to focus all my attention on the readings, I would have got them done certainly a lot faster but it was almost as if the readings were making me want to multitask more. I found my actions and what I was reading a bit ironic!

  11. Sarah says:

    “As the email spills onto my screen, as my mind races with thoughts of what I’ll answer first, what can wait, who I should call, what should have been done two days ago; I’ve stopped the steady breathing I was doing only moments earlier in a morning meditation an now, I’m holding my breath” (Net Smart, 44).

    Similar to most students, I catch myself becoming easily overwhelmed if a professor switches a due date for an assignment, an email from your advisor to FINALLY come stop-by, but you need to stop in at office hours somewhere else. I too hold my breath if I’m overwhelmed an caught off guard, or better yet away from my email more than a single class period. Sometimes if I see my Blackberry light up during class I know its an email and I can’t stop myself from avoiding the small flashing light at the corner of the screen. My brain tells me to clear it, so I can re-focus. If I know that there’s going to be a lot of note taking, I have to force myself to keep the phone in my bag or I will check it.

    A prime example: I just received a text message while writing my week 3 response….but needed to check it before finishing my post.

  12. Marcus says:

    “He discovered that those children who couldn’t wait to eat the marshmallow were more likely to have behavioral problems and ended up with Scholastic Assessment Test scores that were on average 210 points lower than those who had experienced patience decades before. Mischel concluded that ‘intelligence is largely at the mercy of self-control,’ and more specifically, the self-control of attention.”

    What?! Scholastic Assessment Test scores and lack of “behavioral problems” equals intelligence?!? I would hope that in a discussion of metacognition, we would look a bit deeper for the criteria for intelligence…

  13. Ashley says:

    “Cognitive scientist call this temporary disruption the attentional blink” (39, Net Smart).

    I think that is our brain’s way of keeping us alive. I feel as if you go into a mood where your so focused you result in a trance. Although the “blinks” may cause a lost in productivity, it keeps me sane.

  14. Brooks Tiffany says:

    In a 2004 interview with Newsweek, Brin said, “Certainly if you had all the world’s information directly attached to your brain, or an artificial brain that was smarter than your brain, you’d be better off.” Last year, Page told a convention of scientists that Google is “really trying to build artificial intelligence and to do it on a large scale.”
    (Is Google Making Us Stupid)

    Now I know that Carr was drawing parallels with Google and HAL because of the artificial intelligence but was I the only one that kept thinking of Skynet instead? I thought it would make a much more unsettling example.

    “The Skynet Funding Bill is passed. The system goes on-line August 4th, 1997. Human decisions are removed from strategic defense. Skynet begins to learn at a geometric rate. It becomes self-aware at 2:14 a.m. Eastern time, August 29th. In a panic, they try to pull the plug.”
    (Terminator 2)

    We all know what happens after that!

  15. Victoria says:

    “When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without distraction, remains largely disengaged.” (Is Google Making Us Stupid)
    I cannot stand to read another psychological expert saying reading online is somehow less valuable then any other form of reading.

    If writing is compelling I will read it, no matter the medium. If something is going to make me think deeply, it will do so in spite of its medium.

    Try looking at these:

    1) http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/
    2) http://unionstationmag.com/2010/07/encounters-chris-abani/
    3) https://twitter.com/theferocity/status/225614103815782402

    All incredible, diverse and skillful pieces of writing I found on the internet via social media sites that are typically considered superficial, overwhelming, and detrimental to my ability to read quality (ie lengthy) pieces of writing.

    Where is the article writing about these new forms writing? Where is the scholar who is will tell me it’s okay to fall asleep reading Jane Eyre sometimes, because my brain knows how to find and analyze poetry on Twitter? I’m entirely too tired of being told that the way I think and understand the world is a step toward complete “flattening into artificial intelligence.”

    As much as I will concede to the things they describe in this article, I will never fully buy into a theory that digitized information degrades my ability to think until someone can explain why I still have these deep, engaging reading experiences on the Internet.

  16. Alex says:

    “In a 2011 interview, Turke told me about ‘…parents bring[ing] their kids to the museum. I sat there at the children’s museum for hours on end and watched those parents come in with their kids. They let their kids go through the whole museum, and they’re standing along the walls scrolling on their BlackBerries and hitting their iPhones.’” pp. 48-49, NetSmart

    This brings up an interesting point…that it’s not just the younger generation that is so in tune with technology and the always-on lifestyle. There have been plenty of times just this past summer that my family has sat down to watch a show or a movie together and my mom can’t stop Pinterest-ing long enough to get through the opening credits. Yes, it’s frustrating, but I think I went through the same thing. So I think in a way, it may just be a fad, a transition, something we have to adjust to cohabiting with.

  17. Kyle says:

    Carr brings up an excellent point in that online surfing has diminished our attention span towards things that aren’t completely interesting and engaging. Where before we would read an entire segment, chapter, book, now we are programmed to skip through the parts our mind assumes are important. If a given article doesn’t have a compelling title, flashing imagery, and relevant, relatable content throughout, we have a tendency to overlook parts or even skip to the next article without so much as a second thought.

  18. Eric Avissar says:

    “Distraction might be more than just deviation from focus. A good question for any mindful digital citizen to ask is, What are my media practices doing to my brain?” (Net Smart, p. 50)

    I’m so glad the author said this. It is incredibly important for us to be aware of what our media consumption habits are doing to our thought processes. Whenever I continuously read tweets and Facebook statuses, I feel like my attention span and ability to read longer articles shrinks. At times, I feel like I’ve conditioned my mind to only read headlines and sentences, because that has simply become habit. When I feel it is time to focus, I always try to read lengthy articles as a means to recover my attention span, and recondition my brain to seek more details instead of merely just the big picture.

  19. Jonathan says:

    “I think I know what’s going on. For more than a decade now, I’ve been spending a lot of time online, searching and surfing and sometimes adding to the great databases of the Internet. The Web has been a godsend to me as a writer.” — Is Google Making us Stupid?

    Most true thing I read for today. The web is creating a revolution, for writers, for bloggers, for designers. It stands to bring back art and creativity to marketable skills. People make their livings (or at least most of it) from the web, doing creative and engaging things on the web. I think of the Vlogbrothers (Hank and John Green) and how they make a good amount of money from simply being creative on the web. That wasn’t possible 15 years ago.

  20. Johva says:

    “If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen” (Shirky 241)?

    Clay Shirky’s chapter, “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus” discusses how society is coping with cognitive surplus, or the ample time they have to themselves. In the previous generations, minds have been focused on the TV; but a major change has occurred recently. Shirkey called this change “invitation to participation.” As long as we’re doing something, it provides the opportunity for people to consume, produce, and share: “When you offer people the opportunity to produce and to share, they’ll take you up on that offer. It doesn’t mean that we’ll never sit around mindlessly . . . it just means we’ll do it less” (239).

    I think this article is fascinating and inspiring. I’ve always labeled myself as an unproductive failure despite my minor attempts to produce minor works of art–writing, music, etc.– occasionally during my off-time. But after reading this, I think I’m starting to picture myself among other lazy ‘here-and-there’ people which, in my eyes, is rather uplifting.

    Maybe I’ll just sit around tonight, though. Students don’t really have the luxury of a 5-day work-week.

    - Johva

Where am I?
This is the class website for English 3984: Writing and Digital Media, taught by Quinn Warnick at Virginia Tech in fall 2012.
Worthwhile Reading
The links below are the most recent additions to my collection of bookmarks that are relevant to this course. You can find a complete list of ENGL 3984 bookmarks on Pinboard.

  • Buffy vs Edward Remix Unfairly Removed by Lionsgate
    A long, carefully documented saga about fair use. Great case study.
  • The Always Up-to-Date Guide to Managing Your Facebook Privacy
    Nice guide from Lifehacker: "First, we'll walk through the basic privacy settings that determine what you share, then look at a few lesser-known settings you'll want to tweak, and finish with a few third-party tools that will help keep your Facebook information private."
  • The enduring mystery of Roberto Clemente's bat
    Great writing by Kevin Guilfoile, but also a beautiful example of multimedia storytelling.
  • tapestry: a new way to write
    John Borthwick explains what tapestry is and collects some examples of great tap essays: "When we started developing tapestry it struck us that there weren’t many native reading experiences on the iPhone or iPad. Our goal is to build such a tool. A space to slow things down and let you create or experience, short, tappable stories in a simple, clean, distraction free reading environment."
  • All You Need Is (Facebook) Love: ‘Compliments’ Accounts Go Viral at Colleges and Universities
    Time magazine reports on an encouraging trend: college students setting up Facebook pages to collect compliments for/from their fellow students.
  • Demand a Plan
    Online effort to improve gun control, started in response to the Newtown school shooting.
  • Causes.com
    "Causes is a free online platform that provides easy-to-use tools for driving change. We help passionate people share ideas, find supporters, raise money, and make an impact."
  • What Ancient Greek Rhetoric Might Teach Us About New Civics
    Ethan Zuckerman: "If we want to prepare people to be effective citizens, we need to think about teaching this new civics as well as older forms of civic participation. Citizens need to do more than watch or read about the issues and then vote. They need to know how to report, to advocate, to coordinate, to propose and test solutions."
  • SPOT Survey - Fall 2012
    Students: If you haven't completed the SPOT evaluation for this course, please do so during class on Wednesday. I take this feedback very seriously, and I use it to revise my classes each semester, so please be specific about the aspects of the course (and my teaching) that you found successful and unsuccessful.
  • Popcorn Maker
    New web-based app from Mozilla: "Popcorn Maker makes it easy to enhance, remix and share web video. Use your web browser to combine video and audio with content from the rest of the web — from text, links and maps to pictures and live feeds."
  • The People's Bailout
    David Rees explains how the Rolling Jubilee works: "OWS is going to start buying distressed debt (medical bills, student loans, etc.) in order to forgive it. As a test run, we spent $500, which bought $14,000 of distressed debt. We then ERASED THAT DEBT. (If you’re a debt broker, once you own someone’s debt you can do whatever you want with it — traditionally, you hound debtors to their grave trying to collect. We’re playing a different game. A MORE AWESOME GAME.)"
  • Understanding Digital Civics
    Ethan Zuckerman: "I’m beginning to think that certain types of civic participation are simply organic to the internet. Once we have the ability to create and share our own information, we create and spread media to promote the causes we care about and raise money to support the causes we value."
  • Google Docs Stories Builder
    Fun little tool to create text-based stories in which various characters interact within a Google Doc. (Sound confusing? Yeah, you kind of have to see it in action.)
  • Twitter Is A Truth Machine
    John Herrman: "Twitter is a fact-processing machine on a grand scale, propagating then destroying rumors at a neck-snapping pace. To dwell on the obnoxiousness of the noise is to miss the result: That we end up with more facts, sooner, with less ambiguity."
  • The Fallacy of Digital Natives
    Amen to this: "Sure, there may be a larger percentage of Millennials that tap into technology first compared to their elders, but oversimplifying the division of generations to suggest one prefers an all-technology learning style whilst the others use it when necessary is preposterous. Learning and technology has nothing to do with generational divides."
  • Click and Drag
    An amazing, endless xkcd comic.
  • Nice piece in Transom explaining Cowbird
    Annie Correal: "Our goal is to build a public library of human experience, so the knowledge and wisdom we accumulate as individuals may live on as part of the commons."
  • Being Online Has Become So Common That Some People No Longer Identify It As Being Online
    Techdirt, quoting a study by Forrester Research: "Our analysis revealed that 'being online' is becoming a fluid concept. Consumers no longer consider some of the online activities they perform to be activities related to 'using the Internet.' In fact, given the various types of connected devices that US consumers own, many people are connected and logged on (automatically) at all times. The Internet has become such a normal part of their lives that consumers don’t register that they are using the Internet when they’re on Facebook, for example. It’s only when they are actively doing a specific task, like search, that they consider this to be time that they’re spending online."
  • Reddit's balance of power: community values are tested as a troll is unmasked
    Links to all of The Verge's coverage of the Violentacrez debacle.