Growing up digital, wired for distraction

The NY Times looks at teenagers’ use of technology, and the impact on their academic pursuits and ability to sustain attention. The article describes an incoming high school senior, torn between YouTube and Facebook on one hand, and Kurt Vonnegut on the other. Vonnegut loses: On YouTube, “you can get a whole story in six minutes,” [the teen] explains. “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.”

Says the Times:

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.

Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

“Their brains are rewarded not for staying on task but for jumping to the next thing,” said Michael Rich, an associate professor at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the Center on Media and Child Health in Boston. And the effects could linger: “The worry is we’re raising a generation of kids in front of screens whose brains are going to be wired differently.”

The Times also highlights the apparent paradox of technology and school: many schools are trying to reach students using the very technology that distracts them. Teaching, the Times says, on the students’ technological territory: million dollar multimedia centers, iPads for teaching language and classes to teach students to use digital tools to make music and movies. Says a principal quoted in the article: “I am trying to take back their attention from their BlackBerrys and video games. To a degree, I’m using technology to do it.”

At Be Amazing Learning, we use computer-based training programs to help students achieve academic success by developing foundational cognitive skills like working memory and brain processing efficiency. The paradox of using technology to improve, for example, the attention skills of students whose attention spans have been compromised by too much exposure to technology is not lost on us. However, we do see a difference between an adaptive, targeted technology like Fast ForWord or Cogmed and surfing Facebook or YouTube! And in an academic world saturated with distracting technology, programs like Fast ForWord and Cogmed become more important for struggling students to get on track.

 

 

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