One of the challenges of having been involved in digital learning for nearly two decades is how to manage the monster our work, in some ways, perpetuates.
What do I mean? All good teachers know that real and sustainable learning is built upon reflection and making deep cognitive connections. These connections cannot be made in a distracted state—and yet never has distraction been so easy to come by.
The mental strength to resist it (distraction) is something our children need to learn—and I fear not many will. It is not a strength that we (by which I mean middle-aged people: I’m nearly 50) can teach them, really: we don’t have this strength ourselves. We are just as addicted to our devices as kids. and we never had to learn the value of resistance to its siren-song. Sometimes I thank the Gods that I did not grow up in the social media age. I think I would have found it deeply debilitating.
Like many, I fear that people who are unable to detach themselves from the addictive cycle of distraction and affirmation will lead unfulfilling, restless lives. I see it now.
This is elegantly expressed by the late Oliver Sacks in an essay posthumously published by the New Yorker. Here’s a representative quote:
Those trapped in this virtual world are never alone, never able to concentrate and appreciate in their own way, silently. They have given up, to a great extent, the amenities and achievements of civilization: solitude and leisure, the sanction to be oneself, truly absorbed, whether in contemplating a work of art, a scientific theory, a sunset, or the face of one’s beloved.
You can read the whole piece here.
On a lighter note, I once met Oliver Sacks at a party in New York, shortly before he died. I was able to ask him (the author of “Musicophilia”) a question about music that has preoccupied me for some years: Why does a minor third sound “sad”? What is it about dropping that half-note that makes the interval (when played on its own, out of any surrounding context) unmistakably melancholy?
He thought for a second or two, then said that he didn’t really know. And neither did anyone else.