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Partial Attention in Higher Education

I gave a lecture on new media to a public relations class at Pepperdine University yesterday. A few of the students had laptops and the campus provides wi-fi, so they were looking at their screens through much of my talk.

I’m sure whatever it was they were looking at was much more interesting than I was, but it made me think that if I could have surfed the Net during class when I was in college, I’d probably have learned a lot less. The state of continuous partial attention can’t be good for higher education.

Andy Lark blogged an InformationWeek article about how CEOs are asking people to “disarm” (or leave their blackberrys and laptops at the door or in the off position) during meetings, which seems like very good idea.

In his book Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman argues that anything you do that makes you genuinely happy requires your complete attention. In fact, he argues that it is the surrender of your complete attention to an activity that allows you to find your flow, which he says is the place where time disappears, you are committed to the activity at hand and you lose yourself in the moment.

And you can’t do that with one eye on the screen, or your trigger finger on the click wheel.

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