Focus on Focusing

Like most poets, Robert Hass advises us to be wary of the “steady thoughtlessness / of human use.” For Hass, this admonition turns into praise for those who cook beloved, time-consuming recipies, or leave thoughtful notes of thanks to the often overlooked, or put their batteries in recycling bins instead of the trash can.

Such small acts of thoughtfulness require us to pay attention to the physical world around us–and that’s precisely what the Strother School of Radical Attention wants its pupils to do. Their argument, as they present it in this morning’s New York Times, is that we are in the beginning of an era that will require “focus” as a subject that’s just as as reading, writing, or arithmetic. By the time kids get to school, their logic goes, they’ve had thousands more interactions with screens than with physically present humans, and the companies who put content on those screens have a vested interest in distracting viewers from all the other content providers who want our eyes and minds and wallets. The result of such wild, free-market competition: attention spans in young people that don’t often get beyond 47 seconds.

It’s tough to get through any curriculum with an attention span of that range. It’s even harder to have an informed electorate, or a core of citizens who care enough to think critically about the long-term effects of the actions they pursue–or drivers who can go a city block without checking social media.

I’ve long believed that the most radical thing a person can do is to lead a sub-digital life. I don’t know that I can go that far myself. After all, some of you will read this (ahem) important post on your smart phones. But at the very least we must rethink our relationship to electronic devices, as well as the access to them that we allow young people to have. Where should such reconsiderations begin?

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10 Responses to Focus on Focusing

  1. Carter Scaggs says:

    Whether we like it or not, electronic devices have become an essential part of our lives. They help us to work, to learn, to entertain, to share, and to communicate. We can choose to live our lives with less technology involved, but we will be outcasted. This is because we wouldn’t be able to communicate as quickly, which can affect both social life (only real friends like each other’s Insta stories) and job applications (imagine someone sending you a resume via fax). The best thing that we can do as individuals is to try and manage our screen time without fully going off the grid. As parents the decision is harder. We don’t want our children to be screen junkies, but we don’t want them to be out of touch with their peers. The decision falls on the parent, which is something that would be controversial to interfere in, so we should just focus on managing our own screen time.

    • Kayla Williams says:

      I completely agree. With the prevalence of electronics in our everyday life, they have evolved from a privilege to a need. People, children and adults alike, are becoming increasingly dependent on tablets, phones, and TVs. A child’s screentime rules are the decision of their parents, but it will affect their life both short- and long-term.

  2. Ramse Jefferson says:

    When my sister was pregnant she promised her child wouldn’t become an iPad kid. She promised he would go outside and play because iPad kids suck. My nephew isn’t even a year old so he can’t be one, but just yesterday he was glued in front of a screen. It was the only time I had heard him be so quiet. The problem of how much screen time is appropriate will be a pressing problem for us. Limiting a child’s screen time is a must, especially considering the effects it can have on a child’s development. I think the question should begin with what is an appropriate amount of screen time and how do we reach it.

  3. Zuxia Li says:

    In the modern world, I would say it is almost impossible to do anything without an electronic device. Nowadays, people are able to pay, do homework, keep up with current news, door dash, uber, etc all with one click on an electronic device. Though there are people out there voicing their concerns and opposition against electronic devices, but who really is doing anything about it? I want to be better about my screen time and my dependence on electronic devices, but deep down I know I will never be able to survive without my phone. Plus, its not just phones that is the problem, pretty much most of the world is working on advancing their nation and technology “for the better.” At certain places it has become an inconvenience to do anything without a phone or any electronic devices. I believe that as of right now the best that there is to do is limiting screen time and forcing yourself to go outside and connect with the nature or something. As younger kids are beginning to pick up the habit of sticking their faces into a screen, the parents are going to have set standards and take control if they don’t want their kids to end up addicted to technology. Not saying all technology is bad because we need technology, but certain limits are reasonable and beneficial. Reconsideration begins when you become determined to make a change or else change will not happen by itself.

  4. Lila Jacks says:

    I think it’s crazy to be scrolling on TikTok and see a video of someone lip synching in heavy makeup and nice clothing, only to see a hashtag at the bottom with a year- the year this child wannabe influencer was born. There are children and preteens considerably younger than me posting videos in which they look and act much older than I think I look (or feel). My 11 year old brother has considerably higher media literacy and knowledge of memes or trends than I do, due to the fact that he has never lived in a world without the internet at his fingertips. I understand that it has been a large part of my world too, but he has zero memory of a time before iPhones while I remember the time my dad first got one for himself. The younger generation is growing up so much faster than I’d like to realize, succumbing to the influencer lifestyle and begging for designer leggings and cups in an age that those things shouldn’t matter. Though I value the ability to learn and connect across the world using technology in education and life, I think schools (at least primary and middle schools) should choose to put at least an equal amount of time, effort, and money into non-digital arts and outdoor tech-free learning and exploration as they do into their technological aspects of the school day. It’s important to learn and grow with these modern tools, but in doing so at such a rapid and obsessive rate, we are risking losing the natural and personal joys in life.

  5. Kelvin Pool says:

    The world is constantly changing either for the best or the worse. Technology is a part of that change. Just like discoveries of new metals and alloys that have sent humanity into new ages, technology and its improvement has changed the world forever. Tech is not going away any time soon. The idea isn’t how to get rid of tech, but how to develop and encourage healthy tech usage, especially in children. While this will certainly prove a challenge with the captivating lights, colors, and validation of the internet it is the only way forward. Even Gen Z only experienced large access to technology either close to or while in their teens. The problem with Gen Alpha is that they have access to a more sophisticated version of tech from infancy and experience a world where it is all around them. Technology isn’t going anywhere, but how we treat it and give access to it to our children will have to change and grow.

  6. Dorothy Gray says:

    Nowadays it starts with children being around 1 or 2 years old and having a tablet in their hands. For people in our generation, we were born in a world with technology and it started growing into much bigger things. Facebook, was such a big social media platform in the 2000s but now you would just see your mom or grandma on Facebook. And now the new Facebook is Instagram, and Gen Z can’t get enough of it. The internet and technology are filled with so many things, good and bad. It’s just a matter of how we use it. I think we could use a step back from the internet. I know I do. But would people from Gen Z or even the Millennials agree with you? Some will but most won’t. I say this because a lot of them are fixed on things such as keeping up with celebrities’ gossip, the newest trends, or just materialistic things on the internet.

  7. Joy Barner says:

    When a teacher walks into their room, most, if not, all of their students have cell phones in their hands. Technology has been in the hands of students since birth. We have been taught to use the internet as a way to entertain ourselves while our parents take care of important. If this pattern of thinking was abolished, children would not be introduced to the internet at the rate that they are today. Children should not be able to access site like Instagram and TikTok until later on in their lives. They should be experiencing the world around them and not those set in a virtual standpoint.

  8. Audrey Guynes says:

    In our current trajectory, it is almost irresponsible to not be online. We need to know what email was sent, the current trends to understand the jokes in our conversations, and the constant pressure to keep up with the news of our world. It is never-ending. The devices that are supposed to keep us connected have caused people to lose touch with their present world. However, you cannot take away some of the benefits of technology. The ability to participate in distance learning, instant communication with loved ones around the world, and even dealing with certain safety matters relies on technology. With that, however, I do think it is important to be “present” when with others. For example, any time I eat with family or friends, I keep electronics far from the table. This seems simple, but most of the time I am the only one not on a screen. This was my choice, and I am not ridiculing, but that is an example of the time I reserve in the day to exist outside of the screen.

    Since attending MSMS, I have found my reliance on this technology to grow stronger as the importance of an online presence increases. I would recommend everyone to create strong lines between their work life and personal life and branch that line to the devices they use daily.

  9. Gracyn Young says:

    I absolutely agree with the point that children do not need, or have little access, to electronics, however, if this isn’t a complete societal reform, I fear it’ll be of little use. With how fast and important technology is, people need to keep up with it, in order to be successful when it is introduced. I know that young school children use computers in their classrooms, but if electronics are withheld from them at home, this may interfere with their learning. If only some children are distanced from technology, I fear that their peers with access may be more prepared and understanding than them. I fear it may also put a strain on children-parent relationships due to jealousy and trust issues. I feel a better approach, since it’s apparent technology isn’t going anywhere, is more education on the subject.

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