Thoughts on PBS’ Frontline Documentary “Distracted by Everything”

If you haven’t seen it yet – do yourself a favor and check out this amazing 90 minute PBS documentary. What is the effect of constant digital distractions? Are people getting smarter or dumber by using and interacting with digital technology? I encourage you to become a part of the discussion. More after the jump.

What I love about this is that  Douglas Rushkoff is not attempting to convince you that “The Internet” is bad – in fact, he showed clips of a show he was in that was pumping  the benefits of technology and the Internet. What was fascinating about all this is how technology seems to be changing the way children and young people are interacting with others.

I saw this firsthand when I visited the University of Tampa Florida – I spend some time on campus and even got the chance to audit a class. What I saw was so very different from even my own experience at college. Most students had what looked like smart phones – when I was in class, every student took out a laptop and was connected (presumably via a wireless connection). All this WHILE the teacher was talking. I wondered how the students would retain this information – even more – i wondered how the professor came to tolerate the constant tapping of the students laptop keyboards.

As I type this, I’m stopping to look at my blackberry and listening to music in the background. Am I really multitasking? Is this good or bad for us? Frontline serves to help us understand these questions better. you won’t get any hard answers – but I think it’s too soon for us to know the real effect of all this technology.

Some other thoughts about how technology is changing us:

#1 – We’re reading real much less. In some cases, not at all. I feel that everyone I know is either reading less books and generally transferring their reading from paper-based to screen-based. What we also seem to be reading is smaller and shorter. Online services are giving us smaller sound bites while newspapers are laying off massive amounts of people and readership is down all around. I feel that what’s happening is that those who primarily read from screens are actually reading more – the advent of a more rich technology experience is forcing us to deal with more stimulus, this reading an interacting more. We’re taking more information in.

#2 – Our ability to interact while using technology sucks. We seem to be either isolating ourselves from the real world by using technology – or we’re at the mercy of a type of “manners” that says we can’t use a phone or computer in front of others. I do think that younger people are embracing the group use of technology more, however. What is the point of cool and useful augmented reality if just pulling out your phone pisses someone off?

#3 – Distractions, distractions, distractions, distractions, distractions – its all about what all of these short burst of technology use are effecting us. Distractions seems to be more pervasive and I think we’re all getting worse at handing them. How is this effecting our mental state?

I am aware of people that I would consider addicted to technology. I’m also aware that others consider me to be addicted to technology (or the Internet). We all need to have this conversation. What do you think?

I’ll leave you with this fascinating video about texting at the dinner table: