Testing… Testing… 1, 2, 3… Is this thing on??

… Is what goes through my mind when I talk to someone but they seem a bit more pre-occupied with something else. Or as I like to call it, the ‘I’m-100%-certain-that-whatever-you’re-yapping-about-is-less-important-than-this‘ response.
This is ultimately a result of reduced attention. With help from the evolution of technology, attention has become more and more difficult to capture, reducing an individual’s need to be actively attentive (Bowles, 2015)

Sometimes it amazes me how many screens we need in front of us to be satisfied at any one time. It’s no longer enough just to have a TV in front of us. We now need laptops in our laps and phones in our hands. This, my friends, is what we call media multi-tasking. The true test of our cognitive capacity. For example, I can tell you now that in the process of writing this post, I have two separate browser windows open, each with over 7 tabs that separate business from leisure. I’ve also got ‘Game of Thrones’ playing on the TV for some background sound, messaging friends on my phone and playing the occasional Candy Crush game on my iPod. Clearly, I am a very busy woman whose mind is the equivalent of a Beatles concert at Shea Stadium.

Despite all of this activity, am I actually doing anything productive? A recent study suggests that the average attention span of an individual has deceased to 8.25 seconds without being distracted… less than that of a goldfish (Weinreich, 2015). What is more worrisome however, is when we bring that statistic into a classroom. Faria Sana and her colleagues conducted experiments to support their claim that, as a result of media multi-tasking, laptops hinder classroom learning. The results concluded that those exposed to multitasking on a laptop received lower marks than those who weren’t, therefore discouraging the use of laptops in the education environment.

Multitasking on a laptop is a distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to learning of classroom materials.      – Sana et al.

Personally, due to my own personal experience, I argue this viewpoint to a degree as I have found that where usage is used appropriately, laptops have the potential to be more beneficial than detrimental. Sana suggests laptops should be discouraged from classrooms where information is already presented in slides and textbooks (Sana, 2014). I however, find peace of mind in having the lecture slides on the laptop in front of me in order to go back if I’m falling behind in note-taking. I also find that I type faster than I write, and therefore would prefer the use of a laptop in the classroom. A further benefit includes quick research at your fingertips for any terms that require more understanding for comprehension purposes.

Additionally, research conducted by the perspective of students also contradicts Sana’s work as they believe that high media multi-taskers perform better while working with distractions (Reddy, 2014)

Our brains as adolescents and digital natives have adapted to this media influence and because we’ve grown up with it we’re able to cope with all these different stimuli                           – Alexandra Ulmer

Leaving the educational environment, I took it upon myself to observe my mum’s attention span for the day. In particular, she is a big fan of digitally recording television shows. She will often sit down after work and watch one of her pre-recorded programs, however I have noticed that she can never watch the entire program for more than 15 minutes without doing something else. After 10 minutes in the lounge-room, she then tries to watch it from the kitchen as she prepares dinner. Then she is interrupted by the telephone ringing, continuing to talk over the top of the program. After that, she then prepares a cup of tea and continues to watch the show in the lounge-room while waiting for the kettle to boil – but of course, she forgets about it and now the kettle is cold again. Within an hour, she had to rewind the show 5 times to re-watch particular scenes she had missed.
Her response to my observations hit her with a bit of a reality shock but overall she agreed with me that multi-tasking did not work for her in this instance.

It is important to note however, that our attention (or lack of) is not merely defined by our media use. Have you ever walked into a supermarket for a particular item only to walk out with 50 other items EXCEPT the one you went in for in the first place? Or left a drink in the freezer thinking ‘this way it will get cold quicker!’ only to come back hours later to a completely frozen bottle?
We can all thank our short attention spans for that. Check out this quick video below and see how much you can relate to short attention spans!


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