14.0767 multitasking; or, the obsolescence of concentration

From: by way of Willard McCarty (willard@lists.village.Virginia.EDU)
Date: Fri Mar 23 2001 - 11:11:07 EST

  • Next message: by way of Willard McCarty: "14.0768 digitisation of mss?"

                   Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 14, No. 767.
           Centre for Computing in the Humanities, King's College London

             Date: Fri, 23 Mar 2001 16:06:17 +0000
             From: lachance@chass.utoronto.ca (Francois Lachance)
             Subject: Re: 14.0764 multitasking; or, the obsolescence of


    You asked:

    > Is there any evidence that the fascination exerted by computers is
    > lessening as they become more familiar?

    within the context of:

    > sharp compassion of the healer's art" is sometimes required. If I can give
    > it up for the hour, so can they :-). If all we accomplish is to teach the
    > students what concentration is all about -- in the academic mode, that is
    > -- we've done quite a bit in these late and degenerate times....

    In the workplace, a planning retreat is usually wireless and unplugged: no
    cells phone, no laptops, no personal digital assistants. Or the use of
    such devices is restricted to breaks in the agenda. Even a normal workday
    is punctuated by gaps in which the electronic connection is severed. The
    use of voice mail and email help workers organize their work flow and
    avoid interruptions thus aiding the much-valued concentration on task.

    In terms of the classroom, a little urban myth goes a long way towards the
    adoption of proper etiquette. There is the tale of the executive firing
    and employee when the latter's cell phone goes off during a board room to
    board room conference call with an important client. Nicely translated
    into the prof who fails the student who does whatever.

    Why not harness the recording and broadcast potential of some of the
    technology? Another little urban myth: the class that used telephony to
    keep a classmate who had broken a leg involved with following a lecture
    and even being able to participate in the question and answer period.

    The rudeness is not inherent in the technology or even its deployment. An
    unbridled individualism which manifests itself in the fear of being alone
    contributes to the problem or indeed is the problem. There may be a
    cross-cultural as well as historical perspective to bring to bear upon the
    question. Rene Daumal in a 1931 essay on Hindu music the Nouvelle Revue
    Francaise is scathing in his condemnation of bourgeois boredom which seeks
    to kill time. (The essay has been translated by Louise Landes Levi into an
    English version -- New Directions, 1982 -- and the tone is not lost).
    Daumal, in what for some readers will sound like phrases from John Cage,
    dwells upon a music that knits silence with silence and which forces the
    listener to confront the self.

    To sit quietly is an art. Many a lecturer needs to incorporate more
    silence in their lecturing. Then maybe the student will be able to "hear"
    the rustling of multitasking that surrounds them and then decide if they
    belong to the din. It is not enough as Mark Wolff suggests to invite
    students to be self-reflexive about their own practice. There is another
    step in becoming self-aware and that is becoming group-aware.

    There are also the tales of success. The concentration in one class
    reached such a pitch that I had to have the humming lights closed (pardon
    the gallicism but "turning off lights" just seems odd when speaking about
    "turning on students").

    There is also the delicious irony of imagining your students reading the
    Humanist archives while your were passionately offering a disquisition on
    the incursions of technology in early and regenerating times.

    Francois Lachance, Scholar-at-large
           some threads tangle in tassles, others form the weft

    This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Mar 23 2001 - 11:23:44 EST