disconnect/ reconnect: my comm project.

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For my Spring COMM project, I wanted to look into the idea of disconnecting from the network: how network disconnection is different from mass media disconnection, why we desire to disconnect, if it’s a feasible option in today’s world and what other solutions can mitigate this need.

I changed direction about two weeks ago, but am very pleased with how this turned out. I developed a multimedia project in the form of a website I coded. It contains references, text, comics, images and graphics I’ve made as well as three stop-motion videos I created (I was the most excited about these). Hopefully it presents an interesting and visually compelling argument on disconnection. I’m thinking about going in this direction for doctoral research (if and when I get into a program) because, as I propose, I think more work needs to be done on why we feel the need to disconnect and if there are larger societal solutions that can address it.

Disconnect/Reconnect Project

Disconnect/Reconnect Project

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the winter of our disconnect: chapter 5

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“Having too many facts at one’s fingertips ‘without proper instruction’ was dangerous, too, leading people to be ‘filled with conceit of wisdom instead of real wisdom’.” – Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect

Chapter 5 of the book largely reviews the topic of multitasking: the theoretical pros and cons, the idea of younger generations surpassing their elders in this area and the issue of whether multitasking is even possible. Maushart’s children claim that they can easily complete homework while multitasking online with multiple active windows and conversations. Though this section covers both sides of the debate, Maushart sums up early on that “the fact is no one’s brain is different enough to make constant interruptions, distractions and task-switching an optimal environment in which to function. No one’s.” Neuroscientific research continues to show that there is no such thing as multitasking, but when it comes to task-switching children are actually worse than adults. The region of the brain that “toggles” is located in the anterior prefrontal cortex and is one of the regions that is “last to ripen” (p 159). Studies done by David E. Meyer, the director of the university of Michigan’s Brain, Cognition, and Action Laboratory, show that Digital Natives took at least double the time to complete tasks when multitasking and their number of errors increased significantly.

Don Tapscott, author of Grown Up Digital, discusses how today’s youth “grow up interacting and collaborating, thinking and organizing, scrutinizing, having to remember things, managing information”, and that this affects the wiring of their brain. Though today’s media environment undoubtedly alters some functions, Tapscott’s claim that it alters the “actual wiring, synaptic connections and structure of kids’ brains” (p 146) is a bit of a stretch (especially considering he is not a scientist). Yes; they are great at seeking and gathering information, and their visual acuity (among other skills) surpasses their elders, but evolution clearly proves that there’s no way a definitive cognitive change such as an ability to multitask could occur from one generation to the next (or the next, or the next).

Media have also drastically changed since their first introduction. For example, Maushart remembers when watching TV “had not yet become the soundtrack for family life–the not-beautiful, not-useful wallpaper lining every household’s personal space; the visual cud on which the entire culture chewed” (p 145). Though I know quite a few people who opt out of cable or television including myself, I still find this poignant and relevant for the majority of situations. It’s as if we’ve been conditioned to only be able to pass X amount of minutes without “visual cud” before needing another hit. To further my point is this staggering fact: American teenagers spend 7.5 hours with media a day, and that number raises to 10.75 hours a day when assessing total exposure (separating times when more than one device was used).

Though this chapter largely discussed multitasking and a plethora of other facts and ideas not discussed in this entry, I also want to circle back to my introductory quote. I find the second part of this quote to be particularly interesting as I think it hits the nail on the head in terms of our personal wisdom–we have outsourced our knowledge, and our brains now serve as incredible indices for this information, knowing where and how to find things, but not knowing the things themselves. I am also consistently interested in the sheer amount of information in existence and our need for more of it. Maushart quotes Walter Ong on page 169, “We are captives of information, dangerously adrift in an information chaos that means nothing and takes us nowhere.” But I’m not sure we are adrift as much as we are paddling furiously toward some unforeseen shore. We’ve created a virtually (har har) boundless knowledge bank, yet we still seek to reach some optimal, yet undefinable, state of enlightenment.

the winter of our disconnect: chapter 2

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“The stillness was good–now that I’d experienced perhaps twenty minutes of it–but it was also, frankly, just a tiny bit spooky.” – Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect

In this chapter, Maushart discusses the harsh realities of being without modern technological conveniences. Battling her teens disbelief, Maushart made the choice to disconnect largely for her children: “I wanted my kids to experience this… to enlarge themselves. To discover themselves. To become human beings more fully alive, in the Waldenesque words of Saint Irenaeus.” The current generation of children are the first to grow up truly surround by the buzz and glow of technology. Though TVs and radios have been around awhile, home computers and cell phones (especially for children’s use) weren’t popularized until the mid-nineties. Even these technological advancements were confined; internet use was restricted to a hardline connection and mobile phones allowed us to talk more conveniently, but that was about it. Total connectivity at all times was not an option, but it is now. Kids today don’t know anything else; most of them can’t comprehend true silence because they’ve never heard it.

Maushart references the book Born Digital, which uses the term “Digital Native” to describe “the first generation born and raised completely wired” (I don’t know about you, but this phrase stirs illusions of some disturbing science fiction thriller in my mind). This generation is “no more frightened by new media than they are by a new pair of running shoes. They just jump right in and start sprinting.” But they’ve known nothing else, so why would they act any differently? Why would they question a world without technology when they have only been swaddled in its comforting embrace?

the winter of our disconnect: chapter 1

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“Ultimately, the answer is not to take away the hammer, but to see that it is used for more than bashing away at things. To ensure our children free their hands–and their heads– to take up other tools, too.” – Susan Maushart, The Winter of Our Disconnect

I recently started reading this book (I’ll spare you the full subtitle – you can click on the link above to see the listing on Amazon) and am enjoying it even more than expected. Aside from writing about a topic in which I’m extremely interested, Maushart has a light-hearted, satirical writing style that makes the book thought-provoking and hilarious.

The introduction and first chapter discuss, in essence, the author’s family and what led her to disconnect them. “At ages fourteen, fifteen and eighteen, my daughters and my son don’t use media. They inhabit media. And they do so exactly as fish in a pond. Gracefully. Unblinkingly. And utterly without consciousness or curiosity as to how they got there.” Maushart ruminates over the vast differences between her generation and her children’s when interacting with technology. She paints a picture of what her family was becoming: a room full of detached individuals illuminated by screens. Though she had considered a “full-scale digital detox” before, rereading Thoreau’s Walden seemed to push her over the edge.

Maushart discusses how technology is affecting our lives, most specifically the lives of younger generations like her children who’ve known nothing else. “Children of all ages cross boundaries into adult territory like never before, and they do so because their parents have invited them to, whether consciously or not… But more subversive than any of their incursions into adult time or space, I would argue, is our children’s heightened sense of entitlement to information–promoted and protected by a Digital Bill of Rights under whose binding authority family life is being radically rewired.”

The book isn’t solely narrative; it also includes numerous facts about media use. “Today, the average American child spends almost as much time online as he or she does sleeping.” I would probably have guessed as much, but this statistic is still staggering.

So far I’ve found The Winter of Our Disconnect to be a nice blend of personal experience and substantiated facts. I can’t say enough good things about Maushart’s eloquent yet hilarious account of her family’s adventure into a technology-free home, and I’m excited to continue reading.

unplugged.

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A few weeks ago, I found this article about a mother who chose to disconnect her family from technology for six months. The mother, author Susan Maushart, decided this experiment was a necessity when she realized her three teens didn’t just “use” media, they “inhabited” it. Maushart also needed a break from technology – she was sleeping with her phone next to her and carrying it to the bathroom. She admits that her toughest challenge while being disconnected was “relinquishing the ostrichlike delusion that burying my head in information and entertainment from home was just as good as actually being there.”

I think Maushart makes some very insightful observations about the effect technology has on us, which was brought to light by being separated from it for awhile. She describes her family’s transition as them all awaking “slowly from the state of cognitus interruptus that had characterized many of their waking hours to become more focused logical thinkers.”

Maushart wrote a book to describe how her family was revived from their technological daze. I bought it and plan to read it soon. Check it out on Amazon: The Winter of Our Disconnect

My  question is this: do you think everyone could benefit from at least a short break from technology? Do you think Maushart’s actions were extreme and unnecessary?

I find this idea of hers to be very powerful; my job and coursework currently prohibit me from losing all technology, but I think I may try “unplugging” one day a week and take a longer break later this year. I also commend Maushart for her strength as a mother; enforcing such rules on three teens whose generation knows nothing but technology was probably no easy feat. I’m excited to read her book and am sure I’ll mention it again.