Moronic multitaskers vs digital natives: the smartphone crisis


First impressions are important

“The single biggest problem facing education today is that our Digital Immigrant instructors, who speak an outdated language (that of the pre-digital age), are struggling to teach a population that speaks an entirely new language.” –Marc Prensky, 2001 (creator of the “digital natives” concept)

“Multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking.” –Clifford Nass, 2009


Almost four years ago, I launched a radical new approach to teaching my courses. I began confiscating student phones for the duration of every class.

blank-face-2Let’s pretend her name was Kathy. I kept issuing the usual pleas to her – and everyone – to stay off their phones, as it’s hard to participate in a seminar discussion when you’re typing Facebook likes. Kathy was worse than most, so I moved her to a seat directly in front of the lab podium. But even when I was hovering, she kept typing furiously, like I was invisible. She was the last straw. Neither my ego nor my pedagogy could take it any more.


Where phones go to facilitate the learning process (COMN 4520)

Around the time I started my full frontal phone attack, I posted the first of three items on dumb things you can do with smartphones, in September 2011. I took it for granted that thousands of other instructors faced the same problem every time they walked into a classroom. But I figured I had a particularly good reason for my phone strategy. I was teaching liberal arts undergrads how the Internet works. Continue reading

In today’s Globe: Gen D – the dumbed-down generation lives


Update: Not in a reading mood? You’re in luck. Here’s Devin with the spoken version. You know what to do…
[haiku url=”2012-06-27-DE-Post.mp3″]

Great minds think alike. One of those minds would belong to a “hip, articulate 36-year old computer whiz” name of Sang-Jin Bae. Thanks to Devin H for pointing me to a story about his views in today’s Globe and Mail: “Are we breeding a generation of app-loving, web-addicted digital illiterates?


In addition to being a big-time digital animator, Mr Bae teaches. And what he says about the students who turn up in his classes is pretty strong vindication for the unkind words I’ve had to say about Millennials and the malarkey about their being “digital natives”…

“When kids come into my class they divide into three groups,” he says. There are the pure geeks who love technology. There are those trying to understand. And then there is the biggest group: “Those who couldn’t care less.”

Remember, these kids have signed up for highly technical instruction on computer applications used for animation. Even with my cynical attitude, I’d have guessed that a group like this would not have prompted comments like the following from Mr Bae:

“The kids I have, and that is roughly two dozen of the brightest young digital artists a semester, often have no idea what Microsoft Word is. They can’t tell a Mac from a PC. And forget Excel,” he says. He struggles to get his students to use basic computing etiquette.

Continue reading

Life on the Broadband Internet – almost in audio!

Why read up when you can listen up?

Apparently many otherwise hard-working visitors to this site would rather not eyeball their way through 2000 words of dense English prose – no matter how entertaining. Why can’t I listen to this stuff on the treadmill or while suffocating in a bus on my commute? Good question!

We didn’t need a focus group to tell us to get with the program and go multimedia. The real credit for that goes to our new collaborator Devin Harris – who can write, shoot, edit, analyze and kick yer ass with the best of them.

Dev is the man behind the mic and a survivor of more than 300 hours of David’s classes at York University. He’s keeping it real on Twitter (@Dahar84) with a new high of 8 followers, one of whom is the leader of the free world. A truly multimedia guy who’s already making this enterprise way more fun.

We’ve taken the sonic plunge with the item posted back on May 5 – Dumb things you can do with smartphones (part 2). We’ll have it up for your listening pleasure by Wednesday (or Thursday). Tune in and experience the positive side of market forces!


Happy IPv6 times, now and forever

Is multitasking a myth? (Dumb things, part 3)


“[I]t is not too late to recognize the craziness that technology can promote and discover new ways to stay sane in a world that encourages – and even promotes – insanity.” —Larry D. RoseniDisorder, p.6

“Any man who can drive safely while kissing a pretty girl is simply not giving the kiss the attention it deserves.” –Albert Einstein


As I noted in my previous comments on the Pew/Elon survey, the votes on Millennial “rewiring” were split (the survey Web page and report download are here). While plenty of participants felt like me (negative), plenty of others took opposing views. If you read through the survey comments, you’ll find allusions to research proving that multitasking is going to screw up young minds. You’ll also find allusions to research proving that multitasking is not going to screw up young minds.

My interest in this subject began as anything but research-oriented. It was a gut reaction to students in class being mentally absent for 3 hours while they texted their hearts out. And more generally to the countless dweebs who’ve taken over our public spaces, crashing into people, holding up lines and ignoring every shade of politesse because they might get a text message. Especially the ones people get while driving off a cliff. Continue reading

Is blabbing about yourself on Facebook like getting laid?

Your brain on Facebook

One of my favorite blogs is Techdirt, especially the posts written by Mike Masnick. Apart from being breathlessly prolific, he has a sharp eye – and tongue – for the idiotic measures promoted by governments, Hollywood and other would-be cyber-gatekeepers in the name of saving Western civilization from IP piracy and other putative evils.

Sometimes, however, Mike can be irritatingly dismissive. Witness the Friday post entitled “Sharing On Social Networks Triggers The Same Part Of Our Brains As Sex… Sorta,” which he files under the but-other-than-that-is-nothing-like-sex dept. He’s referring to a recent study by two Harvard psychologists that has achieved some notoriety, namely “Disclosing information about the self is intrinsically rewarding” – pdf here. (And btw, self-disclosure is a lot like sex, at least the kind practised without a second party.)

Mike trivializes the findings of a series of lab experiments that have something important to tell us about the things people do and say on social network sites – and why they do them, based on lots of MRI brain imaging. Mike claims the authors have done nothing more than point out that sharing information about yourself is “intrinsically rewarding” – as in what else is new? (“I don’t think that’s a particularly surprising finding.”) The handy example is all those relentlessly annoying tweets about what you’re having for lunch – which people obviously indulge in “because it feels good.” We also learn that attention-getting is “the same kind of thing as getting a brief glimpse of attractive members of the opposite sex.” From which we conclude what? That “science has proved that talking about yourself to lots of people and seeing attractive people make your brain happy.”

Mike’s punchline: “Case closed.”

Continue reading

Dumb things you can do with smartphones (part 2)

“We live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”

Thus begins a provocative article published recently in The New York Times by MIT psychology prof Sherry Turkle, entitled “The Flight From Conversation.” She argues that our growing obsession with technologies like texting and social networking are inflicting profound changes on who we are and how we relate socially – making us increasingly “alone together,” which happens to be the title of Turkle’s last book.

The twin claims that we’re getting lonelier while we throw away the fine art of conversation are controversial to say the least. They suggest we’re seeing the end of some Golden Age when everyone was friendlier, the streets were safer and the music was better. Then there’s the old hobgoblin of causality – the idea that our behavior, especially bad behavior, is determined by popular new technologies like computers, the Internet, and all the clever algorithms that have helped insinuate digital communications so deeply into our lives. None of which has ever slowed down the tech critics.

Yet there’s something different about the technology-bashing in the air these days: it seems to be crossing party lines. We’ve long been accustomed to established interests in business and government foretelling the end of civilization when disruptive technologies threaten to take away some of their marbles. The worldview according to which new technologies are all evil is, of course, especially popular among media fat cats. Here’s how Hollywood lobbyist and consummate drama queen Jack Valenti described the dangers of a once-pervasive consumer technology while testifying to a Congressional committee:

“I say to you that the VCR is to the American film producer and the American public as the Boston strangler is to the woman home alone.” Continue reading

The Internet in 2020: the Pew-Elon experts survey, edition V


The folks at Pew Internet (aka the Pew Internet & American Life Project) produce terrific research on what Americans do online. They have a visitor-friendly website teeming with information about Teens, Broadband, Health, Social Networking, Mobile, Technology User Types and the Digital Divide – and those are just the popular topics. Their work is a boon to my students, who have no source anything like Pew for Canadian data (with the partial exception of Statistics Canada and its Canadian Internet Users Survey, which is still very limited in its scope). Continue reading