Following my previous semi-rant, I have written this more informative post regarding learning, attention, the internet – the need to ‘go go go’ and the need to ‘pause’. 🙂

There is a lot of discussion recently about the impact of the internet (and social media) on how we think and learn (and, I would add, on other aspects of self too – although that is a topic for another time).

Can Students Multitask?

In a previous post, called Can Students Multitask?, I suggested that we have a finite amount of mental energy available at any one time for tasks at hand. How we allocate that mental effort is up to us – but we would need to ‘take charge’ of that.

However, we cannot take charge of that mental effort, if we are not aware – if we are not mindful – of both the internal and environmental stimuli that demand its attention.

I think it deserves study, conversation and, yes, reflection. It also deserves to be studied in the larger context of humankind and technology over time.

It is our responsibility as educators to do so. We must have these conversations with our students. We are obligated to help students to learn metacognitive skills. This, I believe, stretches what we must include in our understanding of ‘media literacy’ and what it means to be information literate.

Let’s see what some other folks are saying about these issues. Most of the following can be found in Is the Internet Changing the Way You Think? Edited by John Brockman)


Take time to find your way
Take time to find your way

Anthony Aguirre says, in The Enemy of Insight?

“information input from the Internet is simply too fast, leaving little mental space or time to process that information, fit it into existing schema, and think through the implications... The ability to instantly access information is wonderful for spinning a web of interconnections among ideas and pieces of data. Yet for deep understanding – in particular, the sort that arises from the careful following of one thread of thought-the internet is not very helpful. I often find the Web’s role is more to tempt me from the path and off to the side than to aid in the journey…My experience is that real, creative insights or breakthroughs require prolonged and concentrated times in the wilderness.”


Max Tegmark says in The Cat is out of the Bag,

“Important issues fade from focus fast, and while many of humanity’s challenges get more complicated, society’s ability to pay attention to complex arguments dwindles. Sound bites and attack ads work well when the world has attention deficit disorder.”


Kevin Kelly says, in The Waking Dream,

“While I rush to the Net to hunt for these tidbits, or to surf on its lucid dream, I’ve noticed a different approach to my thinking. My thinking is more active, less contemplative…I start doing things. I immediately, instantly go.
I go looking, searching, asking, questioning, reacting to data, leaping in, constructing notes, bookmarks, a trail, a start of making something mine. I don’t wait. Don’t have to wait. I act in ideas first now, instead of thinking on them. For some folks, this is the worst of the Net – the loss of contemplation.”


Steven R. Quartz says, in We Know Less About Thinking Than We Think,

“Deliberative, reflective cognition has long been the normative standard for complex decision making…Recent evidence, however, suggests that unconscious processes may actually be better at solving complex problems.”


Rodney Brooks says, in Information-Provoked Attention Deficit Disorder,

“The Internet is stealing our attention. It competes for it with everything else we do. A lot of what it offers is high-quality competition. But unfortunately, a lot of what it offers is merely good at capturing our attention and provides us with little of long-term import – sugar-filled carbonated sodas for our mind.

We, or at least I, need tools that will provide us with the diet Internet, the version that gives us the intellectual caffeine that lets us achieve what we aspire to but doesn’t turn us into hyperactive intellectual junkies.”


Stanislas Dehaene says, in Accelerate My Mental Clock,

“The experience (of a good night’s sleep) reminded me of the mysterious instances of unconscious problem solving during sleep, as famously reported by Kekulé, Poincaré, Hadamard, and other mathematicians and scientists.”


Don Tapscott has suggested that the instant availability of information means we don’t have to memorize anything anymore – that all we need to do is just Google it or access the ‘brains of the hive mind’. Obviously, I would disagree with this based on my perception that much of our thinking goes on ‘offline’, when we are cocooning, or in our subconscious.

So, I ask you the same question:

How is the Internet changing the way you think?

I also ask you to please have these conversations with your students.