The Challenge of Attention in the Digital Age
- Tuesday, August 19, 2008
The rise of mass media and the culture of entertainment shaped the minds of generations now at mid-life and older. Today's generation of college and university students faces a far greater array of attention demands -- most of them now cellular and digital. Many teenagers and college students seem to experience genuine anxiety when they miss a few minutes of digital activity. (In fairness, their Treo and Blackberry toting parents are often almost as distracted and inattentive.)
Ask any educator and you will hear the horror stories. College professors look out at the tops of heads as students are bent over keyboards. On some campuses, faculty members are in revolt over students surfing the Web and maintaining their Facebook pages during lectures. The learning experience is transformed even if the students are taking notes on their laptops. Eye contact between the teacher and the students is often almost totally lost.
As Courtney Miller reports, Josh Waitzken wrote a letter to the students he observed when visiting Professor Dalton's class. This section of his letter should be seen and savored:
I understand that your minds move quickly and we are all impacted by a fast paced culture, but do you realize the horror of shopping online while Dalton describes…mothers throwing their children into a well to avoid a barrage of bullets? What are you doing? There comes a day when we must become accountable for our own learning process…Take it on. This is your life. What is the point of neurotically skipping along the surface when all the beauty lies below? Please seize the moment and listen deeply to Dalton's final lectures. Close the computers. Stop typing madly and soak in the themes he develops…Learning is an act of creativity, not mind-numbing, tv watching passive receptivity.
This is good advice for us all, regardless of age. We are al living distracted lives that promise only to grow more complicated and distracted in years ahead. The discipline and stewardship of our attention is a matter of great and unquestionable urgency.
Join the revolution and refuse the seductions of the mind-numbing allure of all things digital -- at least long enough to think a great thought, hear a great lecture, enjoy a quality conversation (with a real, live face-to-face human being), listen to a great sermon, visit a museum, read a good book, or take in a beautiful sunset.
People who cannot maintain mental attention cannot know the intimacy of prayer, and God does not maintain a Facebook page. Our ability to focus attention is not just about the mind, for it is also a reflection of the soul. Our Christian discipleship demands that we give attention to our attention.
R. Albert Mohler, Jr. is president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. For more articles and resources by Dr. Mohler, and for information on The Albert Mohler Program, a daily national radio program broadcast on the Salem Radio Network, go to www.albertmohler.com. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to www.sbts.edu.
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