Informal Learning x2

February 10, 2005

All time is not created equal.

You can accomplish more in a ninety-minute block of uninterruped time than in nine ten-minute blocks of time. In ninety minutes, could reflect on a complicated issue, write a thoughtful plan, or do a deep-dive into a subject. In an hour-and-a-half, you can enter the psychological state of “flow,” balanced between overcoming healthy challenges and losing it, staying in the zone, oblivious to petty distraction, so totally absorbed in what you’re doing that time falls by the wayside, and work becomes play.

Then the phone rings. The magic spell is broken. You’re back in the high-stim world of competing distractions. It’s all sound-bites and though-bits. You can’t think more than one step ahead. You lose control, as outside events and machines and distraction wrestle for your attention.

It’s worse than it used to be. Katie Hafner writes in today’s New York Times, “But in the era of e-mail, instant messaging, Googling, e-commerce and iTunes, potential distractions while seated at a computer are not only ever-present but very enticing. Distracting oneself used to consist of sharpening a half-dozen pencils or lighting a cigarette. Today, there is a universe of diversions to buy, hear, watch and forward, which makes focusing on a task all the more challenging.”

Attention. It’s so damned hard to pay attention. A researcher at Harvard Medical School who specializes in attention problems calls this phenomenon pseudo-A.D.D. Today’s obsessives have replaced hand-washing with email-checking.

A Stanford University, BJ Fogg is inventing the field of Captology, the study of computers as persuasive technologies. At conferences, he airs a video of Bongo, a stuffed bear who wants to hold a picnic. Bongo boots up his computer to check the weather. He confronts a box that says, “Updates are ready for your computer. Click here to download these updates.” Bongo just wants to know about the weather. He clicks ahead. “Virus definition files are out of date. Run Live Update now?” Bongo clicks on. ____________________ Bongo finally gives up.

Long blocks of time are vital for learning, for without them we deny ourselves the opportunity for reflection.

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