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Slow thinking

I just attended a talk by Mark Bauerlein, author of The Dumbest Generation and other works exploring the effects of digital media on thinking.

In 1910 (he says), about 10% of the high-school-age population in the U.S. were actually in high school, and 1% of the college-age population were in college. The remaining 90% and 99%, respectively, worked under the supervision of adults. They spent very little time in the company of other teenagers. As a result, there was no such thing as "youth culture", no "peer pressure" (because they seldom interacted with age-group peers), no "generation gap" (because there was more intergenerational than intragenerational communication).

By the 1950's, however, teens and twentysomethings spent much of their time with their age group, and one could talk about "teen music", "teen literature", "teen movies", as opposed to their "old-fogey" analogues. In 2012, teenagers exchange an average of 3500 text messages and hundreds of phone calls per month, almost entirely with their age group; they're unaccustomed to talking with old people (i.e. over 30). In addition, since social media tend to create homogeneous communities that confirm rather than challenge one's beliefs, they're unaccustomed to talking with people who disagree with them.

Information technology makes it extremely easy to find, quickly and efficiently, exactly the facts you're looking for, without distracting you with "other books nearby on the shelf", or the font in which a newspaper was printed, or something jotted in the margins by a previous reader. When you want information retrieval, it's great -- but learning is not information retrieval. Sometimes the branches along the way are more interesting than exactly what you started out looking for.

Bauerlein sometimes assigns his students to look up some definitions and turn them in -- written in longhand, with a pen or pencil. This not only prevents simple copy-and-paste, but forces students to spend at least a second or two on each word, and it adds some haptic feedback, all of which increases the likelihood that it'll stick. Likewise, he sometimes assigns students to transcribe a chapter of Walden, in longhand, to get the rhythm and style of Thoreau's words into their heads. It reminded me of the "slow food" and "mindful eating" movements.

Posted via LiveJournal app for iPhone.


Interesting assignments.

Bauerlein's ideas may explain why my students, when faced with an essay test that requires them to think critically, simply dump information onto the paper.
Yes: when you give them a writing assignment, they think you want the information (presumably because you're too old to know how to use Google yourself), so that's what they give you.
It's that, and too not just that, I think.

I just had a discussion with a fellow therapist -- this is someone who is very smart and is educated to a graduate level -- in which he said he didn't know what to say or do to help a patient. I replied, "I'd ask [$question]". He replied, "Oh, [$answer]." (Made up e.g. "I'd ask her how she's doing." "Oh, she's doing fine.") I'm still a little flabbergasted that he missed the curve on that one, that he didn't realize that I was answering his question of what I would do, not that I was requesting information of him.

I don't have a name for this class of error, but it always reminds me of pointers in Scheme and of how some dogs look at your hand when you point, instead of what you're pointing at.