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August 8, 2011


One 21st Century Skill Requires Another – ‘Mindfulness’

by Peter Skillen

Brenda Sherry, asks wisely in her post Is Knowing When to Cocoon a 21st Century Skill?

There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that it is.

We are a society gone mad. We are a collection of people who are suffering the ‘hammer and nail’ effect as a result of the surge and ubiquity of communications technologies. Because we CAN do it, we do it.

Knowledge Flows

We are constantly connected. We are regularly bombarded with information flows, interruptions and multimedia blather. In fact, we seek it out. We behave like Pavlov’s dogs. With all our notifications turned on, we salivate in anticipation of the next Growl or pop-up lest we miss something. We constantly interrupt the work we are doing, or the thoughts we are having, to check what has come in or to what we should respond next.

We affectionately call it ‘multitasking’. I call it distractedness, rudeness, a superficial caffeine-driven, immediately gratifying ego fix. (Ok…that’s when I’m in a mood! LOL I actually see it as a valuable skill to add to the repertoire – see below.)

It is really rapid attention switching – not multitasking.

'Multitasking' or 'rapid attention switching'?

Oh certainly, there are times when it is useful to ‘keep an eye out’ for a time-critical issue. I do not deny that. I am not a luddite.

I also consider it to be a skill – a necessary skill – to be able to surf the surface – to be able to ‘jet ski’ as Nicholas Carr says. But, please, I am offended when people say to me that it is the ‘new way’ – get used to it – inferring that I am not ‘current’.

I am. But I don’t just live in the ‘present’. I prefer to consider the present in light of the past.

Brenda suggested in her post that I encourage people to ‘zoom out’ – historically – to see what technologies have come before and how individuals and society have adapted to them.

I recognize and accept that the technologies are creating more affordances for us in terms of connectivity and massive knowledge flows. There are two points I wish to make.

Novice Behaviours

One, we as a society are in a phase typical of novice behaviour with regards to social media. We overuse/misuse the technologies until we gain expertise. Then the uses become more reasonable. Recall, for example, what people did whenever they started page layout/design when those tools first arrived on the scene. They used multiple fonts, colours, etc. because they could – not because it was good. You can think of more examples. I encourage you to do that.

Take time to be mindful

Wise Adoption – not Replacement

Second, we need to adopt or add the new affordances INTO existing patterns of doing things – not switch totally to that new methodology. “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.” I love the fact that I can surf the fast rapids of massive knowledge flows when it suits me. But, I also recognize that there are times when I need to ‘scuba dive in a sea of words’ as well (as Carr says). I need to read deeply – longer texts – not just abstracts or, bless me, 140 character wisdoms.

This also means that I need to take the time to pause – to disconnect. I need to reflect – to ruminate on what I have in my mind. I need to be mindful.

The 21st century skill of ‘multitasking’ requires the 21st century skill of ‘mindfulness’. (Neither of which is actually solely relegated to this century!)

More in another post when I return from a holiday. I am taking a pause.

Likely, the tone of this post indicates that I am ready for one. 🙂

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Aug 9 2011

    Peter, I found I, too, was ready for to pause a few weeks ago. And I love Brenda’s “cocooning” term. During this time, I’ve tried to truly reflect on the massive amounts of information I’ve skimmed, digested, and bounced around in my head this year. And spending less time online has helped. Students will need to be fully aware of the two points you make so well. Mindfulness is, as you said, another skill to help students with (as we help ourselves). Back to my pause…. 🙂

  2. Enjoy the holiday. Whether we cocoon, or just turn our attention to something else, we need time to digest, to reflect, to reconsider. To everything there is a season. Summer seems like the right season for a vacation .Looking forward to seeing you back online.

  3. Aug 11 2011

    Hi Peter,
    I agree. We need the pause. Each person finds their balance differently. I canoe trip or kayak to ge away. Or have friday night dinner with friends. These skills of balance and when to dig in deep vs. Skim over are increasing in value daily. If we are introducing the tools to hyper connect to our students, it is our responsibility to have these conversations as well. I liked your comment about each tool starting off with overuse (like the web design pages you used as an example). I had never thought of it that way. The same is true (for me) with any tool. Nothing will ensure I have a TON of pictures from the summer like getting a new camera. After I figure it out, things plateau to a normal, appropriate use. Thanks for pointing that out. 🙂 happy “pausing”.


Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. My Thoughts on “Maybe 1 to 1 isn’t such a great idea” « doug – off the record
  2. Reflective Cognition vs More Information: It’s a Choice! « The Construction Zone

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