Attention and Multi-tasking

I’ve just signed on for what is termed a ‘lunch and learn’ webinar on using Facebook for Business. This time I am going to make a conscious effort to focus and remain present for the duration of the webinar…because I have to confess I have trouble staying in the webinar moment.  Take the last one I attended:  it was again during lunch so while the webinar ran:  I ate my lunch (as you do), flipped to email each time it pinged, had a brief conversation with a colleague when he dropped into my office and answered a text. Yet when I am giving a face to face class I don’t like it (and have something to say-politely of course!), if participants are emailing, twittering, facebooking or texting.

Some people might just write multi-tasking off as the curse of this century and accept it as the way of the world – while others (like me), require that learners are actively present in the moment so that learning and engagement can occur (says the pot calling the kettle black). While all the organisations I work with in fact ban Twitter, Facebook, Myspace  and IM, this just leaves texts, mobiles and email to impinge on in-house workshops and meetings, whereas students with their own laptops are mostly free to indulge in social networking in the learnng space.

Howard Rheingold blogged about this very thing: in a post titled ‘Attention Literacy’

…I want my students to learn that attention is a skill that must be learned, shaped, practiced; this skill must evolve if we are to evolve. The technological extension of our minds and brains by chips and nets has granted great power to billions of people, but even in the early years of always-on, it is clear to even technology enthusiasts like me that this power will certainly mislead, mesmerize and distract those who haven’t learned – were never taught – how to exert some degree of mental control over our use of laptop, handheld, earbudded media.

To which I say Hallelujah! 

Is there such a thing as multi-tasking? I don’t think so – to me it is just  a way of masking the switch of attention from one thing to another. If you are reading a text you cannot possibly be fully listening to the person talking to you, what you are doing is a bit of reading then a bit of listening, then a bit of reading and constantly playing catch-up between the two – what’s effective about that? I say call it what it is – attention switching and accept it means that the person supposedly multi-tasking is not paying full attention to any one of the things he or she is currently juggling at the same time.

Note to self:  make a point of re-reading this before attending the next webinar.

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