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Multi-tasking in Digi-Nation

I wrote an “essay” for my Intro to Mass Media class after watching a show on Frontline called “Digital Nation.” I don’t want to exhaust the topic of technology, but I thought I would share it nonetheless.

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The concept of multi-tasking has become more and more important as technologies have become more and more advanced. It used to be that we had no choice but to sit in class and listen—or at least pretend to listen—to the teacher as he or she lectured. We never had to choose between going on Facebook or going on Webcourses; and as the book notes, phone mobility has given us the opportunity to communicate anywhere and anytime in a more “spur-of-the-moment” fashion. The technological convergence that has created digital media and social networking websites has successfully managed to distract much of today’s students, who seemingly erroneously believe that they have become skilful multi-taskers.

Chances are we probably all fall into the category of being digitally charged, as I like to call it. Many of us are so dependent on technology, simply because it has become a part of the mundane, that we could not function without our cell phones, computers, and High-Definition televisions. With so many mediums to choose from, and so many opportunities for distraction, I have never had a problem admitting that I have a short attention span and am a terrible multi-tasker; and I do not believe that doing it more often will make me any better at it. I think the Stanford research is a good starting point for proving that we are not as positively adapted as we think we are, and I agree. It has to be detrimental to our mental capacity to be doing so many different things at once. I, for one, have a terrible memory, and am glad I finally have a reasonable explanation for it.

Still, I believe that a few years from now humans will evolve and multi-tasking will become the norm. In a sense, I view it as a form of “survival of the fittest” as humans are continuously changing and have little problems adjusting to the new and exciting—as  USC professor Henry Jenkins says, we have already adapted to and survived the information overload. The changes we have made in the past three decades have been tremendous, and it is no wonder MIT teachers who are 25 years into their profession have to revamp the entire structure of their courses in order to feed the thirsty minds of their easily distracted students. If I were a teacher, I don’t think I would allow cellular phones or computers in my classroom, as barbaric as that may sound. From the eyes of a student, I can confidently say that everyone with a computer in class has at least two windows, or tabs, open in addition to Microsoft Word where they take down notes they do not comprehend. It’s no doubt that we now type faster than we write, but that’s nothing a little practice couldn’t fix. It may prove an arduous task, but I’d hope to refresh the memory of my students who probably by then have completely forgotten how to write. Furthermore, the more a student uses a computer the shorter their attention spans get; and who wants to teach someone who can’t pay attention for longer than two minutes.

I have often written and discussed the influence of digital media with many of my peers. It is dually noted that some readily accept the new technologies meanwhile others—who probably were not as exposed to the latest toys as children—hesitate a little. The video stated that technology is “changing what it means to be human” and I cannot say I completely disagree. What makes a human is the ability to physically interact and verbally communicate with other humans; it’s what separates us from the rest of the earth’s species. Granted, we have not severed the lines of communication over the years, however our real life conversational skills have been compromised at the expense of social networking and instant messaging.

In the midst of all the madness, I managed to catch myself as I unknowingly and unwillingly slipped into the worlds of Blackberry Messenger and Facebook and decided that enough was enough. I wanted to stick to using them only when necessary—or when I have no other obligations. I cannot stand the thought of having 600 Facebook friends and three in real life, or attending a social event where everyone’s nose is in their smart phone. For what it is worth, we can all just stay home and text. I am all about interpersonal communication that does not take place through a medium. I spent the better half of my childhood in a country where most of my free time was spent running around outside with neighbourhood friends, although I had the luxury of owning a Sega Genesis. I’ve seen both extremes—too much technology and too little—and because of it I feel like I am quite grounded. I have a little of what my parents experienced growing up and a little of what is now the “digital era.” This inevitably makes me vastly different and much more exposed than my parents’ generation, although I am not an enthusiastic adapter of the next best thing.

Still, had it not been for the place I call home, I think I would have been sucked into the cyber world just as badly and as quickly as the next guy.

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