In Tony Schwartz’s opinion piece for the New York Times titled Addicted to Distraction, the executive and author laments his inability to sit down and read a print book. Citing numerous reasons for his lack of focus and several bad habits that had also gotten out of control, Mr. Schwartz “created an irrationally ambitious plan” to right these behaviors and in essence, went cold-turkey for 30 days. Over the time period he aimed to reduce the amount of time he spent on the internet to re-establish his attention span, start eating better, and get more exercise.
He admitted that he had some success over the 30 day period of abstinence, noting that he stopped drinking diet soda and gave up sugar and carbohydrates. But he failed completely in his quest to modify and cut-back on the time he spent on the Internet. As we start off the year with new resolutions, I was humbled by his efforts and results. And he honestly characterized his use of technology and the internet as a need to be constantly stimulated or a way to get a “fix.” His struggle was a portrait I could identify with in relation to my own technology use and reading habits, and that of the students I teach.
Mr. Schwartz’s experience kept resurfacing in my mind as I read Sherry Tunkle’s new book, Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age. In her book, Tunkle explores the idea of distraction in the classroom and the “hyper-attention” behavior we see in some of our students. In her chapter on Education she writes, “There is a way to respond to students who complain that they need more stimulation than class conversation provides. It is to tell them that a moment of boredom can be an opportunity to go inward to your imagination, an opportunity for new thinking.”
Ms. Tunkle’s book is based on the idea that with technology we have greatly limited our face-to-face communication. The inability to connect through discussion has occurred virtually everywhere from the dinner table, the workplace and in the classroom. And she readily admits that “we want technology put in service of our educational purposes.” But she argues that we have to be intentional about the outcomes we want from utilizing the technology otherwise it may be distracting the teachers and students from focusing on one another.
Over the winter break, like many of us, I tackled a growing pile of print items to-be-read and took a brief hiatus from my daily technology habits of searching, sending emails, and collecting data. The winter break also provided many opportunities for socializing and I found that having such a rich variety of opportunities to converse with friends, neighbors, and family was extremely fulfilling. The combination of these two factors – conversing more and using technology less – led me to create two New Year’s resolutions that I think will have lasting results. First, to engage in more discussions from the simple water-cooler chat to more deliberate and proactive conversations about new resources to enrich lessons. I know that I learn a lot from those I meet and share with, and in 2016 I want to continue to foster and nurture that growth. And second, to create a mindful plan for using technology in my life. This week was a victorious balance and I look forward to 50 more weeks where I am productive and still have the ability and time to engage in deep reading and conversation.
What are your technology and classroom related New Year’s resolutions?