NYU professor Clay Shirky teaches theory and practice of social media and has now decided he must ban the use of laptops, tablets and phones in his class - they are beyond distracting, they are barriers to learning.
He writes of his reluctant decision to ban the devices in an essay at Medium, and has some fascinating science to back his decision.
"A study from Stanford reports that heavy multi-taskers are worse at choosing which task to focus on. (“They are suckers for irrelevancy”, as Cliff Nass, one of the researchers put it.) Multi-taskers often think they are like gym rats, bulking up their ability to juggle tasks, when in fact they are like alcoholics, degrading their abilities through over-consumption.
"Humans are incapable of ignoring surprising new information in our visual field, an effect that is strongest when the visual cue is slightly above and beside the area we’re focusing on. (Does that sound like the upper-right corner of a screen near you?)
The form and content of a Facebook update may be almost irresistible, but when combined with a visual alert in your immediate peripheral vision, it is—really, actually, biologically—impossible to resist.
"I’m coming to see student focus as a collaborative process. It’s me and them working to create a classroom where the students who want to focus have the best shot at it, in a world increasingly hostile to that goal."
The idea of being unavoidably distracted gets a thorough investigation in the new book "A Deadly Wandering" by Matt Richtel. The book, based on a fatal texting and driving incident, is reviewed here.