In an undergrad advertising class, a professor of mine enlightened the class — and, quite possibly, specifically the generation of late 80s born, 90s-mid 2000s grade schoolers — to the fact that we were simultaneously the last generation to experience the traditional learning methods of the past yet the first to experience the newer learning modules that technology brought forth. This debatable yet for the most part accurate observation permeated my mind throughout my reading of Hayles’ article and viewing of Stone’s lecture.
In elementary school, I learned cursive and typing skills side by side, the former through focused written repetition and the latter in the guise of a game environment. While the typing was learned in a game environment, it couldn’t really be considered multitasking, for “learning to type” and “helping the turtle cross home row” were accomplished doing the same task. Even before then, my predilection towards spelling and “grammar Nazism” developed through my grandma’s enforced repetition of writing each letter of the Alphabet for an entire row three times over while alternating upper and lower case, multiplied twenty-six times to account for each letter (that’s right, “XxXxXxXx…” took up just as much space as the most common letters… perhaps this indirectly led to support for equal opportunity?). So my earliest years were marked by the deep attention learning module.
At some point, however, my bunker mentality began a gradual yet drastic shift to hyper attention. As I wrote line after line after letter after letter on wide-ruled paper (thank goodness it wasn’t college-ruled) at my desk, it dawned on me that the television was in the same room, that the Mute button was fully functional, and that pressing the button triggered something called Closed Captioning. And, if I tried hard enough, I could manage to write with reasonable legibility between the lines while still catching glimpses of my beloved Animaniacs. Thus began my descent into hyperactivity and discovery of multitasking.
Years and years passed, and my access to various types of media increased. Easily the one tool that completely changed my life in sixth grade was a Windows 95 computer that came installed with Microsoft Office. Before, my familiarity with computers had more to do with exploration of single applications at one time. Tinkering on a Macintosh my teacher aunt brought home, I would write a story and animate it in Kid Pix, barter for goods in the Oregon Trail, improve my knowledge of the world’s nations through tracking down Carmen Sandiego. But 1. each of these events was more or less leisurely, and 2. none were done simultaneously. For me, the Windows taskbar changed all that. For a history project, I could look up England on my Encarta Encyclopedia CD-Rom… while also checking my email. I could write a paragraph on the topic, then have a quick Minesweeper fix. The shift that took place from elementary to middle school only urged me deeper into the technological realm. Assignments that were once required to be written in spiral notebooks made way for the option to type homework– which in turn made way for mandatory acceptance of turned-in printouts over handwritten work. This provides a clear example of Stone’s observation of how the education system evolved from seeking multiple options (allowing both handwritten and typed homework) to ease of use (eradication of the handwritten assignments). Even now, my statistics class distributes take home tests that must be completed within Microsoft Excel, a painful endeavor for a Mac laptop (and, hence, one button touchpad) user. Funny… typing homework was once thought to be the easy way out, or for students with illegible handwriting, but now it is handwritten homework that has a lower-class stigma attached to it.
For that little boy who watched cartoons in silence while working on my ABCs, the supposed godsend of adopting the tools of technology was a curse in disguise. Rather than writing essay assignments at maximum efficiency, I would type a little here, take a nap there, then groggily try to finish an hour or so later. Either that or I’d check the latest NBA box scores. I was probably a skilled-enough writer to where the quality of work did not suffer too much. What did suffer, however, was the amount of time spent recovering with long-term sleep; my system of short naps is ineffectively in place to this day.
My efficiency no doubt dropped precipitously. How did this happen to me, someone who was once able to finish nightly math assignments in less than ten minutes, or was addicted to the local library because I finished books at such an alarming rate? At the time, I blamed it on a traumatic move across the highway, away from friends and comfort. This certainly still has a lot of validity in explaining an unmotivated teenager, but has no bearing on my transformation to a hyper-attentive individual. Throughout college, on the surface this hyper-attentive activity manifested itself in a double-major, business minor, enrollment in the honors program, and multiple internships (for and not for credit), by no means a bad thing. But this is on the macro level; microscopically, I still had the same problems trying to reawaken the efficient deep attention of my youth. Perhaps this is why I found it a necessity to study Radio-TV-Film and Advertising, two fields where I have genuine interest in; the few times that I have been able to summon my long dormant, deep attentive concentration, it has been on papers and projects for which my interest in the subject matter does not waver. By no means do I regret my undergraduate studies, nor do I regret the events that caused this transformation to the hyper-attentive person I am today. But I do acknowledge that had certain events not occurred, I might have developed into a very different individual.
Today, I am almost entirely hyper-attentive in all arenas of life. I take the grocery ads to restaurants when I eat and read them while txting and chewing. Even while completing this blog post of utmost interest, I 1. microwaved and ate a Hot Pocket (note: in no way do I endorse Hot Pockets as a means of sustenance), 2. constantly updated the election polls, 3. checked all four email accounts, 4. began watching an archived NBA game from last week, and 5. took care of all necessary bedtime bathroom functions, save for showering. And, even though Hayles brought up video games later on, the move towards a hyper-attentive individuality has absolutely ruined me as a gamer. In the same way I cannot read fiction novels or watch a TV show unless I think it will benefit my life (which, somehow, I feel Mad Men does), I cannot even devote myself to playing video games, as they would require full concentration on my part. Sometimes, I really feel that hyper attention has screwed up both my academic and leisurely endeavaors.
But perhaps a return to the deep is in store. In my personal experience, Hayles has it right when she highlights studies describing that “it is more time-efficient to do several tasks sequentially than attempt to do them simultaneously” (Hayles 189). I experienced quite the revelation at work this week, when I decided to concentrate on creating screenshots for a show all at once rather than alternating between screenshots and encoding video. My coworker thanked me for the prompt completion of the project. Knowing that at least one of the tasks was complete, and that its completion was acknowledged/appreciated by a peer, made me nostalgic for those days of single information streams. So for anyone who has made it through this 1200+ word blog post, remind me of this paragraph, and of my youth, of that period in life when I was not deeply hyper, but hyperactively deep. Maybe then will concentration finally take back the mantle from concurrence.