Distracted by technology

Friday 16 March 2018

Why should we help our students self-regulate their use of smartphones?

"Although screens are clearly with us to stay , we should now be well aware that they are far from hazard-free, as more and more evidence is indicating. According to Ofcom the average 16-24 year-old ... now spends more time on media and communications than on sleeping.... Now, at last, health professionals and researchers are turning their attention to the relationship between the sheer amount of time spent on discretionary screen media and mental health outcomes ranging from clinical depression, body dissatisfaction and eating pathologies to screen dependency disorders." (The downsides of being digitally native, Aric Sigman, Human Givens Journal, Volume 24, No.2 - 2017).

Living in an age of distraction

We live in what has been termed the Information Age, where we are constantly barraged with information on our ubiquitous smartphones and other electronic devices. Herbert Simon, the American political scientist and computer technologist, pointed out that when information becomes abundant attention becomes the scarce resource. Our addiction to digital technologies is quickly changing the way we live?

What implications does this have for our students? James Williams research on design ethics raises some scary questions:

“The advent of digital technology, and especially the emergence of the smartphone, has now effected this information/attention reversal across the entirety of our day-to-day lives. As the new scarce resource, attention is now the object of intense global competition … where winning means getting as many people as possible to spend as much time and attention as possible using your product or service. As a result, digital technologies now privilege our impulses over our intentions. The new challenges the attention economy poses … are challenges of self-regulation. ‘Who will be great,’ wrote Goethe, ‘must be able to limit himself.’”

Williams goes on to argue that digital technologies feeds peoples’ infinite appetite for distraction which can decrease our intelligence, crowd out opportunities for quiet reflection and replace leisure with entertainment. “In the short term, the externalities of the digital attention economy can distract us from doing the things we want to do...a primary effect of digital technologies is to undermine the operation and even development of the human will. This militates against the possibility of all forms of self-determination."

Are we any longer free?

Why do you think Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, did not allow his children to use the iPad?

Williams speaks of the "infrastructure of industrialized persuasion" which is the "dominant business model and design logic of the internet." He compares its effect to that of a religion: "it involves the installation of a worldview, the habituation into certain practices and values, the appeals to tribalistic impulses, the hypnotic abdication of reason and will, and the faith in omnipresent and seemingly omniscient forces that we trust, without a sliver of verification, to be on our side."

One of the key IB approaches to learning skills is self-management, at the heart of which is the ability to self-regulate. How do we help our students self-regulate their use of digital devices? How do we provide them with the skills to examine the dangers of what Williams calls the "infrastructure of industrialized persuasion"?

Tags: technology


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