Howard Rheingold: Attention!

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!

What I think about Net Smart

For the first time of my existence, I wrote a customer review for Amazon.com, about Howard Rheingold’s new book Net Smart. I’ll post it here also:

Some books are just… interesting, or beautiful. There are books however which not only discuss existing literature and research from a new angle and provide new insights, but also make you think about your practices and change them.

Net Smart is such a book. I follow the writings, posts, courses and videos of Howard Rheingold since quite some time, but I was amazed to discover the way in which he discusses the research and experiences he accumulated since the early days of the web. He discusses other books about the impact of the internet on society in a very thoughtful and nuanced way, but also adds precious new insights.

This is not a book which limits itself to discussing theories, opinions and research. It does all this in an admirable way, but it also gives some great advice to the reader – about how to deal with a ‘always on’ world of ubiquitous computing. It’s realistic in its judgment of this ‘always on’ era, but also liberating as it describes the internal and external literacies which we can use to make the world into a better place.

It’s the kind of book which changes your life – for some maybe small but meaningful changes, for others big changes.

Read also: Becoming Net Smart with Howard Rheingold.