Literate distractability?

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Photo from MiikaS on Flickr under Creative Commons BY-SA license

Reuters tells us about a Pew survey of “technology insiders, critics and students” asking what skills young people will need in 2020. The key ones are cooperative work that makes problem-solving a public, crowd-sourced activity, online information search, and evaluating information quality. As best I can tell, the third is a more specific restatement of the second, but whatever.

What interests me about the key-skill list is what’s omitted: thinking things through. The survey respondents apparently worry that the term learning more and more describes process of flitting among virtual experiences like a stone skipping across a pond and never pausing to take a look below and consider what may be holding up that surface. The article quotes Jonathan Grudin: “[T]he ability to read one thing and think hard about it for hours will not be of no consequence, but it will be of far less consequence for most people.” I wonder what he’d say about how the noise facilitated by recall-driven information technology tends to encourage that process of surfacization in its base list of possibly relevant search trails. Users see a potential experience in each item from the sort of laundry list of linked factoids that current interfaces provide. They get no help, or damn little, deciding which might represent a good path toward better understanding.

Barry Chudakov, has something to say about that: “Is this my intention, or is the tool inciting me to feel and think this way?” That’s a good question. What’s the answer?