Paying Attention

Marilyn Pukkila, head of instruction services at Colby College, has often posted thoughtful issues on the ILI-L list. She has kindly contributed this guest post for ACRLog readers – on the blurring of boundaries for multitaskers and the difficulty of paying attention to those quiet voices inside.

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This snippet from a Business Week article got me thinking:

“In fact, the advertising [in MySpace] can be so subtle that kids don’t distinguish it from content. ‘It’s what our users want,’ says Anderson.”

Most users of this generation claim they can tell when someone wants to sell them something — and it puts them off. But this blurring of the lines makes me question just how much they really can tell, and how much they mind. In a similar way, TV stations which identify their programs as “news” are in fact offering documentary and even “infotainment”, while staunchly clinging to the “news” designator. This is, of course, one of the tasks of information fluency librarians: to alert folks to the ways the lines are blurred.

I think this blurring is an offshoot of “continuous partial attention” (from the Pew study on the Internet and the U.S.). While multitasking can be useful, there is still value in the ability to focus on one task, and educators have a role in conveying that message. A group of students told me that the one thing they’d find most challenging about the voluntary simplicity movement was not giving up things. It was spending time alone to think, relax, and get to know themselves and their values. I was startled, but it quickly made sense to me. If their lives are so hyperconnected, solitude could be very threatening. And what does this mean for those members of this generation who are solitary beings by inclination?

–Marilyn R. Pukkila

About Barbara Fister

I'm an academic librarian at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, Minnesota. Like all librarians at our small, liberal arts institution I am involved in reference, collection development, and shared management of the library. My area of specialization is instruction, with research interests also in media literacy, popular literacy, publishing, and assessment.

2 thoughts on “Paying Attention

  1. How can we create environments in our libraries and library services that promote focusing on one task? The idea that teaching focused attention is an educational goal strikes me as a good alternative to the seemingly corporate influenced idea that we are “adapting to our consumers” by enabling them to multitask even more. Besides, even the corporate world realizes that multitasking doesn’t work, and that “what now passes for multitasking used to be called not paying attention.” (See “Yes, Sell All My Stocks. No, the 3:15 from JFK. And Get Me Mr. Sister.” Wall Street Journal, Sept 12 2006.)

  2. When I teach a class in our e-classroom, I always use our Robotel software, which pushes my screen onto all the learner screens. I can give “control” to any station, display any station’s results to the entire class, etc. I always do a one-minute assessment of each class, asking students what they found most useful and what they wished we had covered more thoroughly. I’ve been amused this semester to find that for each class I’ve taught, I’ve had at least one person say how much they appreciated seeing what I was doing right on their own screens. One of them even said they wished their professors would “catch a clue about this technology”. I think I’m helping them focus!

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