I interviewed Howard Rheingold about his new book, Net Smart. It was a broad-ranging conversation, which was published on PBS MediaShift. Here is what he said about the importance of attention:
You are known for giving students exercises in attention — rather than just ordering them to close their laptops during the course. In “Net Smart” you explain the importance of attention for all of us living in this era of ubiquitous computing.
Rheingold: Attention is the fundamental instrument we use for learning, thinking, communicating, deciding, yet neither parents nor schools spend any time helping young people learn how to manage information streams and control the ways they deploy their attention.
Why not include basic media mindfulness in the fundamentals that parents AND schools are expected to provide to their children if they want them to succeed in the networked society? Don’t parents need to weigh their urge to check their BlackBerry against their sons’ and daughters’ requests for their attention? Attention, and especially attention to media, is a topic that deserves a discussion more nuanced and more proactive than “multitasking doesn’t work” and “too many people are bumping into other people while looking at their smartphone screens.”
Both mindfulness meditation disciplines and modern neuroscientific study of metacognition strongly suggest that people can learn to deploy their attention more effectively. Teaching people elementary mindfulness is extraordinarily inexpensive compared to the cost of producing smart devices and deploying global broadband networks.
(Much) more on PBS Mediashift!