by Anne White
Have you read the Christian Science Monitor article about people being so distracted that they can't pay attention long enough to read anything demanding, even if they want to? It popped up for me on Yahoo a few days ago, and I actually read it. I do read things. But then that's what I do. And on the other end, there are people who really never did read much in the first place, so superimposing the distraction of technology on them isn't going to make a lot of difference.
I'm trying to put myself in the place of someone who used to read, used to want to read, and who has actually changed that because of "digital distraction." Is there really such a person? Maybe, maybe not. I'm more concerned about how this applies to children, learning or not learning. If the office workers cited in the article were interrupted about every three minutes and took twenty-three minutes to get back on task-and these were adults--is it any easier for children who are constantly interrupted and distracted? It sounds as if we're putting ourselves, or being put, into an ADHD experiment.. The question is, why would we want to do that to ourselves, and more so, to our children?
And check out this observation: "I see people of all ages around me abandoning the moment they're in to search for something better." The author blames this, again, on the intrusion of technology, claiming that a friend found a miraculous cure by abandoning a fancier phone for a flip phone. Wow, if that was all it took...the funny thing is, I don't even have a flip phone, and I still get distracted. Not enough not to read, but just trying to keep all the usual balls in the air. But this friend, apparently, could not bring himself to read books as long as he felt enslaved to his do-everything, don't-abandon-me piece of technology. (Doesn't that remind you a bit of those Japanese electronic "virtual pet" toys, popular about fifteen years ago, that demanded to be fed and coddled hour on the hour? Is it possible that those were just training wheels for "SmartBerries" and the rest?) Well, anyway, there we seem to have our Exhibit A, somebody who would have read, could have read, but who was too busy to stop and seriously look a book in the eye. Well, good for him, at least.
But again, he's an adult. He knows better and he can make his own choices. What concerns us are the children, our own and those around us. Are we allowing them a great deal time free of distractions? We may have to deliberately create that--I don't mean sabotaging the devices, but at least going places where they're not wanted or not allowed, and that can include "unplugged" places and times within our own homes. If education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life, we need to be vigilant about guarding all three.
With young children, we can play with them, with our own gadgets turned off of course. We can do as Charlotte Mason suggests in "Inconstant Kitty," and encourage them to finish the game, play with the same toy a bit longer, go a little slower and more carefully at building something. We can provide toys with many possibilities. We can even do as the mama in All-of-a-Kind Family did with chores: she hid buttons (and occasionally pennies) when the little girls were dusting, so that they had to do a very thorough job to find them all.
If we homeschool, we can practice the disciplines, create the habits that do teach them to concentrate, pay attention, observe--and then record observations non-electronically. If we teach classes or work with groups of children, we can provide books and activities that absorb them, that make them suddenly come up for air and ask for another chapter, more time to keep working or watching something.
Some will say that is not exactly cutting-edge. But in a world where distraction is the new normal--maybe it is.