As part of Michael Stephens’ Hyperlinked Library course offered through San Jose State University, I reported on the book Now you see it: How the brain science of attention will transform the way we live, work, and learn, by Cathy N. Davidson. We were encouraged to use creative means to convey our reports, so I took the book’s central theme to heart and utilized several free and available web tools to comment across platforms.
Part 1: TameTheWeb – “Introduction”
The main thrust of this book is the notion that we are using outdated criteria to measure our educational progress. This is a crucial idea for information professionals to understand, because it attempts to call our attention to the largely invisible shift in how we find, absorb, and utilize information, which could be changing the very idea of what we consider valuable.
Given that much of the book is dedicated to questioning and possibly dismantling the argument that distractions and periodic attention shifts are a bad thing, I’ve decided to create a distraction-heavy presentation with different points presented on separate formats. If the author is correct in her assessment of how users absorb information, then anyone reading this book report will likely be checking Twitter and Tumblr (among other things) before getting to the end of it anyway. By appearing on all of these platforms, I hope to stay a step or two ahead of you!
(For you traditionalists who prefer to have everything in one place, the entire script is available at the very bottom of this post, in one big text-heavy entry).
Part 2: Screencast – “The Gorilla Illusion”
Part 3: Tumblr – “Distraction as an Asset”
Part 4: Slideshare – “Fighting Gravity”
Part 5: Twitter/Storify – “Using Hyperlinks for Good”
Part 6: Soundcloud – “Conclusion”
William Bejarano has worked as Information Specialist at the Rutgers Center of Alcohol Studies Library since 2013. Prior to that, he worked in Technical Services at the Rutgers University Libraries for eight years. He holds a Masters in Employment and Labor Relations and will complete his MLIS degree in July 2015. You can email him at [email protected].
The main thrust of this book is the idea that we are using outdated criteria to measure our educational progress. This is a crucial idea for information professionals to understand, because it attempts to call our attention to the largely invisible shift in how we find, absorb, and utilize information, which could be changing the very idea of what we consider valuable.
Given that much of the book is dedicated to questioning and possibly dismantling the argument that distractions and periodic attention shifts are a bad thing, I’ve decided to create a distraction-heavy presentation with different points presented on separate formats. If the author is correct in her assessment of how users absorb information, then anyone reading this book report will likely be checking Twitter, Tumblr, and Youtube (among other things) before getting to the end of it anyway. By appearing on all of these platforms, I hope to stay a step or two ahead of you!
Davidson mentions that the average viewer of a television commercial pays attention to about 6.5 seconds of it (Davidson, 2011, p.24). Advertisers are keenly aware of this fact, so they are sure to target those 6.5 seconds as the ones that they want the viewer to remember. This is a consequence of “attention blindness,” one of the main ideas in this book. I hope to capture your attention for slightly more than 6.5 seconds per platform, but that’s ultimately up to you.
The metaphor that Davidson returns to throughout this book is the “Gorilla Illusion”. Please take a look at the following video:
Okay, maybe you’ve seen or heard of this before, or maybe calling it the “Gorilla Illusion” tipped you off. If so, please try again with this video:
The point is, when we choose to intently focus on something, we are making a deliberate decision not to focus on other things. Our brains develop by constantly making neural connections — choosing to stress one thing over another. In so doing, we are prioritizing what is important to us, and making sense of our world. As small children, we have not yet forged these connections, and as such the world is a confusing mass of stimuli, with no way of sorting out any patterns or distinctions between them. Therefore, in order to make sense of our world, our unique environment intentionally or unintentionally places values on some things, while (again, intentionally or unintentionally) devaluing others. We forge our neurons in whichever way is most valuable to us, and let the rest fade into obsolescence.
This is where distraction becomes kind of an asset. As Davidson puts it,
Without distraction, without being forced into an awareness of disruption and difference, we might not ever realize that we are paying attention in a certain way. We might think we’re simply experiencing all the world there is. We learn our patterns of attention so efficiently that we don’t even know they are patterns. We believe they are the world, not a limited pattern representing the part of the world that has been made meaningful to us at a given time. Only when we are disrupted by something different from our expectations do we become aware of the blind spots that we cannot see on our own (p.56).
A common question in the popular media, in academia, and in the business world is whether a hyperlinked approach to information gathering, distribution, and/or retrieval bad for us? Bad for our brains? Bad for our children? (oh, won’t someone please think of the children?) But, as this book makes clear, this is the wrong question to be asking. Instead, the question we should be asking ourselves is whether or not we are learning in a way that will best prepare ourselves for the way the world works. This leads us to approaching the topic from a very different perspective. This slight tweak is just what Davidson means by “attention blindness”. We’re devoting all this energy, angst, and research into something that in the end may not be something we even have any control over.
Excuse the hyperbole for a moment, but asking if the Internet is bad for us is about as meaningless as asking if gravity is bad for us. It does not really matter, because it is simply here, it is central to our lives, and it does not appear to be going anywhere. Davidson points out that in the ten years prior to the book’s publication we had gone from spending 2.7 hours per week online, to over 18 hours per week (Davidson, 2011, p.7). This book was published in 2011, and technology use seems to be increasing exponentially, so it wouldn’t surprise me if that number were dwarfed by our current usage, just four years later. In light of this rapid adoption, we can either spend our time proverbially fighting gravity, or we can learn to accept that it is here to stay, and work with its potential and deal with its consequences.
This report was prepared for Michael Stephens’ course The Hyperlinked Library at San Jose State University. For the sake of this argument, let’s accept it.
Instead of focusing on what the internet is doing to our brains, let us delve into how we can use it to our advantage in the library profession. As one specific example from the text, comes in the way of crowdsourcing. Surely you have heard of the term crowdsourcing by this point. If you have not, here is the Wikipedia entry for it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crowdsourcing (Do you see what I did there?)
In a nutshell, it is the process of harnessing large crowds in order to complete large or complex tasks, often without any real form of central control. While we as information specialists may be the authority, the users (whomever they may be) will ultimately determine where libraries are heading, because they are the ones who are using (or not using) them. We need to hear from our users, which requires not only surveys and exit interviews, but perpetual connection with real communication to our users, whose needs have exploded beyond the traditional reference questions or information literacy issues.
The great paradox here is that as jobs get more technically oriented, that which is uniquely human becomes more revered. Creativity, problem-solving, and making abstract connections are the ways we separate ourselves from computers. This is perhaps even more pronounced in the information professions. Rote jobs in general are either getting taken over by machines, or moved offshore. We work in a post-industrial economy, but are clinging to early industrial educational standards, and unless we get out ahead of the wave, may be put in a position of defending or justifying why we our jobs are necessary. Perhaps a good practical takeaway from this is to start finding ways to automate those rote tasks to whatever extent is feasible, and focus on the aspects of the job that have sustainability, because it is going to happen anyway, and it might as well be on our terms.