The Chronicle of Higher Education profiles University of Washington professor David M. Levy who is on a quest to make us less distracted by our digital tools. His methods are fascinating and will force you to reconsider your own digital habits.
He uses several exercises to help demonstrate to his students how distracted they actually are (and what to do about it). From the story:
First, the students practice meditation:
The practice, as Mr. Levy teaches it, involves repeatedly bringing your attention back to your breathing as the mind wanders away. Think of it like lifting weights. Just as you can build up your biceps by doing reps, he says, meditation can strengthen attention.
Then, the students learn to clear their mind before approaching the task at hand.
But meditation works like an eraser that rubs out the mental chatter you carry up the stairs to class, says another student, Michael J. Conyers. “It opens me up to where now I can give my full attention to this guy.”
Next, they log their digital behavior:
[Meran] Hill was flabbergasted to find out how frequently she checked e-mail. She checked it right after waking up. She checked it riding the bus, crossing campus, climbing stairs, sitting in class, eating dinner. She checked it up to 25 times a day, just on her phone. For each new message, her phone vibrated. It stressed her out. Often the alerts concerned unimportant messages from e-mail lists. She was reacting to robots.
And lastly, using tracking software called Camtasia, they observe the way digital addiction affects physical appearance.
When students play back the Camtasia recording, they see what was happening on their screens with their own faces displayed in a corner. They watch themselves flit among Words With Friends, e-mail, Words With Friends, Spotify, Words With Friends, and that goofy video of a cat rolling up against a sake bottle.
“Look at my face—I do not look happy,” [Hill] says. “My posture is like this.” She slouches her shoulders, aping what she sees in the video.
All of this distraction, Levy reasons, can have a dramatic effect on our ability to learn and retain new information. The multitasking and constant distraction is what leads us to feeling overconfident in our own abilities.
What’s tricky is that someone who does surf the Web while listening to a lecture will very likely have the impression of doing just fine, Mr. Mayr says. That’s because our minds lay a trap. All content in long-term memory is represented in two ways: “as a sense of familiarity on the one hand, and whether or not you truly understand it.”
People often mistake familiarity for understanding. They open the textbook after getting home from a lecture, and they recognize the material. They think: I get this. Then they take a test—and bomb it.