You are here to enrich the world, and you impoverish
music by Coldplay. She has three
windows open on her computer screen:
her Web browser through America
Online, MSN Messenger for sending
instant messages and e-mail, and her
word processing program. Her homework is to write about five causes of the
U.S. Civil War.
As Emily is putting her heading on
her paper, her cell phone rings. She
quickly picks up her phone and a
picture of her friend Ivy appears on the
screen. “Hi Ivy, what’s up?”
“You’re not going to believe who
You don’t have
texted me,” Ivy says. Emily squeals as
she hears the name of someone Ivy is
to be tech savvy
to guide your
a healthy balance.
interested in dating. Just then Emily’s
computer flashes, “You’ve got mail!” The
executive part of her brain drops the
conversation with Ivy as she reads a
new e-mail from another classmate
asking for the homework assignment.
Emily answers the e-mail as Ivy rambles
on, but she realizes she should get back
to work. “I’ll text you later, Ivy. I have to
get some work done.”
Emily shifts her attention back to the
word processing screen. Let’s see, where
was I? Her brain must let the snippets of
social conversation drop out of her
working memory. Attending to the
assignment causes Emily’s brain to
retrieve long-term memories of her
readings and lectures on the Civil War.
As she begins to think about the differences between the North and the South
before the Civil War, her mind drifts to
picturing Rhett Butler in
Gone with the Wind.
Refocusing takes several
seconds as she remembers
what Mr. Montgomery told
them in class about slavery.
Emily types “causes of the
Civil War” into Google.
hits come up. She clicks on
the first link, realizes it
doesn’t have any information she is looking for, and
tries the next Web site.
Immersed in her search,
she is startled by a jangle
from her Blackberry. Emily
sees Jackson’s text message
“What r u doing?” Jackson is
Emily’s new love interest, so
her brain floods with pleasurable chemicals as she
types her reply—these
chemicals make it hard to
return to homework.
So it goes among the net
Not many tasks are getting
done. Later, however, Emily will
remember her mission to complete her
homework and will stay up late
attempting to explain the reasons for the
Some researchers believe that young
people who operate the way Emily does
are putting themselves into a state of
partial attention. Linda Stone (2007), a
former software executive for Microsoft,
has coined the phrase continuous partial
attention. Digital natives are motivated
by a desire to be busy and in demand.
They don’t want to miss anything, but
the main goal behind their multitasking
is not so much to be productive as to be
connected to someone. Being physically
present has become less important;
responding instantly is highly prized.
In addition to being inefficient, this
method of operating causes other problems. Excessive connectedness can
cause stress, which results in the release
of cortisol and adrenaline from the
adrenal glands. Initially, this cocktail
enhances memory. But over time, stress
chemicals can lower the effectiveness of
the immune system, weaken cognitive
functioning, and, in some cases, cause
depression. In addition, although quick
communication occurs in scenarios like
this, people aren’t bringing their full
attention to their personal interactions.
In small doses, this can be useful, but
habitually using this kind of attention
will put people’s ability to problem solve
and interact with others at risk.
If you are 30 or older and fall into the
digital immigrant category, you are
probably trying to keep up with your
students from a technology point of
view. Your brain must change too. But