Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Banning Tablets And Phones in the Classroom

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.

Monday, September 29, 2014

The Only Real Political Debate?

While the media and the current political party debate seems to indicate a battle between "Conservative" and  "Liberal" factions, that is not the reality.

The real conflict is much more deeply embedded in the way most everyone lives and dies, and simple solutions or moral authority just don't exist. The working world, from farming and food to high technology, is critically flawed - so goes the argument laid out in Naomi Klein's new book. "This Changes Everything". We are doomed to extinction at a planetary level unless momentous revisions to how we live take place.

The ideas are nicely captured in this review via The Film Doctor, who mingles writing about politics and the art of cinema in a most unusual fashion. While her book seems to center on the debate about Climate Change, there is much more underneath.

"One thing is certain: Klein's book has a clear villain--the oil companies. As she writes, "From the perspective of a fossil fuel company, going after these high-risk carbon deposits is not a matter of choice--it is its fiduciary responsibility to shareholders . . . yet fulfilling that fiduciary responsibility guarantees that the planet will cook" (148). Her observation had me wondering about how much do we individually and habitually consume petroleum-based products, and how easy would it be for anyone to switch over to only using renewable energy? When I get up in the morning, I drink coffee from Colombia, brush my teeth with a plastic toothbrush, drive to work in a car, work in air conditioning, eat food that has travelled great distances, buy a book, etc. The thought of how I might begin to cut back on this enhanced life style proves daunting given how just about every aspect of it ties in with the premise of having cheap abundant fossil fuel. ... our way of life is so energy-intensive in the United States that it seems nearly impossible to fundamentally change that addiction within 30 years before nature finds another way to take care of the problem. The challenge seems so insurmountably great, Klein's solutions can take on a Pollyanna quality of dreamy wish-fulfillment. Klein anticipates that critique by reasserting that the climate allows us no choice but to think and act in radically different ways. 

"I especially liked Klein's history of the small island of Nauru, a cautionary tale that reads like Jared Diamond's description of Easter Island in his 2011 bookCollapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.  ... And we tell ourselves all kinds of similarly implausible no-consequences stories all of the time, about how we can ravage the world and suffer no adverse effects. Indeed we are always surprised when it works out otherwise. We extract and do not replenish and wonder why the fish have disappeared and the soil requires ever more 'inputs' (like phosphate) to stay fertile. We occupy countries and arm their militias and then wonder why they hate us. We drive down wages, ship jobs overseas, destroy worker protections, hollow out local economies, then wonder why people can't afford to shop as much as they used to. We offer those failed shoppers subprime mortgages instead of steady jobs and then wonder why no one foresaw that a system built on bad debts would collapse."

"At every stage our actions are marked by a lack of respect for the powers we are unleashing--a certainty, or at least a hope, that the nature we have turned to garbage, and the people we have treated like garbage, will not come back to haunt us" (165-6). As Klein concludes, "In other words, Nauru isn't the only one digging itself to death; we all are" (168). "