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Busy Lives: Distracting or Multitasking?

Jenny Chen's picture

On our field trip to the Penn Museum I met an Autistic boy. He was incredibly inspiring as while we walked through the museum he could ramble off facts about every exhibition we went to. Esty and I called him the “walking encyclopedia” as there was very little we could bring up that he didn’t know about.

            While we walked around the museum, this students mentor explained to us that he views the world differently than we do. He told us that the student wanted to be social and make friends but he does not know how to interact with people. But at the same time, he is happy where he is. He said that the student loved computers and would sit in front of a computer all day just reading about history. He can’t even convince him to play games. The idea of “distractions” then came up, and the mentor stated that many Autistic people are incredibly focused on what they are interested in; in this student's case, history.

            This made me begin to think about our distractions and how it relates to our education and our literacy. While this student may have many problems that inhibits him from being able to socialize the way we are able to, he also has retained so much information that we haven’t been able to. Could this be because he is FULLY focused on his interests? Were people 200 years ago more able to retain information and knowledge because there weren’t distractions such as Facebook, Tumblr, Youtube, video games, TV, movies, etc…?

            At Bryn Mawr we lead incredibly busy lives and we try to do as much as we can. We try to excel in academics while also doing sports, volunteer work, art, music, and so much more. Studies have shown that trying to memorize 200 words in one sitting is relatively unmanageable but in the course of a week is very manageable and those who take the whole week to memorize 200 word are more likely to retain them. But at the same time, does this apply to education in general? Should we try to do work in large chunks when we are entirely focused on ONE particular thing? Or should we try to vary our activities? Some think that the variety is a form of multitasking, which is beneficial, but where is the line drawn when considering distraction and multitasking?



alesnick's picture

what is knowledge?

I wonder if behind your question about multitasking and distraction is a deeper one about the nature of knoweldge.  When is knowledge something we retain, and when is it something we use?  My sense is that action (including reading and writing) -- working on/with/through -- is where knowledge is -- so if in our busyness we are unable to act/move/be in purposeful and receptive ways, that blocks learning.  

How do you relate this to understanding literacy?