Matt Richtell, in his New York Times article, “Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction,” raises the concern that computers and smart phones pose “a profound new challenge to focusing and learning.” He opens with the story of Vishal Singh, a seventeen-year-old high school student who prefers YouTube to books because, as he says, “A book takes so long. I prefer the immediate gratification.” Richtell paints the usual portrait of students too distracted to succeed in school, but he also raises many poignant issues.
He writes that
even as some parents and educators express unease about students’ digital diets, they are intensifying efforts to use technology in the classroom, seeing it as a way to connect with students and give them essential skills. Across the country, schools are equipping themselves with computers, Internet access and mobile devices so they can teach on the students’ technological territory.
Richtell does not portray technology as an evil but as a tool that can be harnessed for educational purposes and relates many of the complex tensions that arise between traditional ideas of education and more recent thoughts which attempt to utilize newer technologies.
The article also looks at some of the science behind distractions, pointing to various research, including this finding that was published in the journal Pediatrics:
The researchers looked at how the use of these media affected the boys’ brainwave patterns while sleeping and their ability to remember their homework in the subsequent days. They found that playing video games led to markedly lower sleep quality than watching TV, and also led to a “significant decline” in the boys’ ability to remember vocabulary words.
The article ends with the story of Singh’s passion for and success in video editing and points to this as his desired career. The article subtly argues that the nature of academic success is changing. He states one major reason why Singh succeeds with video editing: interactivity. Richtell writes, “As he edits, the windows on the screen come alive; every few seconds, he clicks the mouse to make tiny changes to the lighting and flow of the images, and the software gives him constant feedback.”
Richtell’s thoughtful article succeeds in humanizing some of the issues facing students who are exposed to a wide-range of technology and doesn’t shy away from examining the complex and changing nature of how we need to address learning.