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“How to Focus in The Age of Distraction” copyright Learning Fundamentals

“The widespread digitization of our writing lives means that our most important relationships, tools, resources, projects, and activities are often represented
in and bound closely by screens” (Leon and Pigg 3).

These authors have a fascinating proposition. Using the work of Michel de Certeau, they studied the actual writing practices of two graduate students to propose that “digital multitasking allows graduate students to write against the proper space of institutionally sanctioned professionalization practices by combining their own interests into discrete work moments” (8). The authors didn’t endorse the online procrastination that these students (and most of us) engaged in, but they don’t see it as all bad. They found a profound blurring of personal and professional lives in the study, and this makes sense.

One thing that really struck me about this article was the ways the students used the online writing environment to (almost addictively) affirm their personal identities in the midst of doing academic work. Leon and Pigg tie this to an idea of working against the system, and at first I thought this was way off-base, but the more I think about it, the more possible it seems. I can remember getting assignments all the way through school that I felt made no connection to my life, my needs, my identity in any way, and I sometimes found them almost impossible to complete. I think the use of the “non-sanctioned digital writing acts” by these students was an active way of expressing a similar feeling (12). It’s almost like an unconscious rebellion that says, Hey, I’m still me no matter what the rest of my brain happens to be forced into doing.

I also empathized strongly with Alyssa in her use of Facebook as a proxy for face-to-face communication because direct contact can be difficult for her. I haven’t really thought much about how Facebook can actually help people who have social anxiety in their professional lives, but this is one clear example.

The authors list the things this “off-task behavior” helps accomplish (12). By connecting these interruptions to productive accomplishments, their analysis does help me soften my attitude toward students who must stay in touch while doing academic work. This truly is the age of distraction. We might as well see how it operates.

Kendall, Leon, and Stacey Pigg. “Graduate Students Professionalizing in Digital Time/Space” A View from ‘Down Below.’” Computers and Composition 28 (2011): 3-13. Science Direct. Web. 3 Apr. 2012.

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