Ontological implications

15. New Media, Ancient Humans, Old Brains

  • We can't/won't rewire humans overnight.
  • New/Digital media will have to fit the ways that we are, now, or only early adopters will stay with it/them
  • In some ways, we are always been multi-taskers. Few have/had singlular focus.
    • Activities like reading complex material requires deep concentration and encourages single point focus.
    • Many flow activities encourage concentration and single point focus. Some flow activities include new media participation (gaming, simulations, creative production, etc.). Most of these activities require complete mastery before one can rapid switch away and still be proficient
    • Seeking single point focus is a very old concept: see Buddhist (and other such) spiritual philosophies. Few people are very good at it (young or old).
    • New media introduced an enormous number of new potential inputs/interactions. We are in a transitional period, a time when the old rules don't work and the new rules have yet to be worked out.
    • Single point focus leaves out LOTS of other stuff; tunnel vision is not always good.
  • There is a concerted effort to build human machines/machine humans--these are radically unique ways to change the new media/old brain interface.

Primary take-aways about multi-tasking:

  • Some activities require single-point focus. Deep reading is one of them. Really difficult (not possible) to understand and appreciate a serious argument (claims combined with evidence and reasoning) with the brain flipping back-and-forth between/among a wide-range of inputs.

  • Multi-tasking is rapid switching. It works for some things, not for others. With expertise (1,000+ perfect hours of training + experience + ability), one can learn to switch really fast (re, pilots, floor traders, drivers, etc.) and/or one can develop the ability to block distractions and work in flow (super star athletes). 

  • Deep reading can be in flow, but cannot be in “fast switch mode.” 

  • Reading on screens that aren’t dedicated introduces massive distraction, encouraging switching. Dedicated screens (like Kindle without internet connection) can be somewhat like printing on paper. But very few people use them that way. 

  • Background “noise” (music, white noises) sometimes suppress switching so are ok (aren’t really multi-tasking). 

Concept 15 Analysis article:

“Consciousness’ in Robots Was Once Taboo. Now It’s the Last Word."

Want to learn more?

Ezra Klein Interviews Johann Hari about attention

"This Optical Illusion Has a Revelation About Your Brain and Eyes"

MIT projects

Paul Leonardi and Tsedal Neeley. The Digital Mindset: What It Really Takes to Thrive in the Age of Data, Algorithms, and AI. Harvard Business School Pub, 2002.
Franklin Foer. World Without Mind: The Existential Threat of Big Tech. Penguin Books, 2017.
Matthew Crawford, The world beyond your head : on becoming an individual in an age of distraction. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015.
Mark Andrejevic, How Too Much Information Is Changing the Way We Think and Know, Routledge, 2013.
Cathy N. Davidson. Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. Viking, 2011.

(A) Text Reading Analyses

(B) Concept Analyses

(C) Extra Credit (D) Grading
Special Considerations Concepts Schedule

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