Should Attention Training be Thought in Schools?

Should attention training be thought in schools? Before I get into my personal answer, let me offer some background information. They say the currency on the internet is attention. Rightfully so as every webpage these days have been developed with the purpose of keeping you within its constraints, they are often called “walled gardens”. For example a website like Facebook is a sterling example of a successful walled garden community. Even when a user receives links to other websites from Facebook, the user remains within the Facebook page, and a banner is often placed at the top of the page. In some other cases the link requires you to give permission to be accessed from Facebook. How many times have you clicked on a friend’s post of a cool video or article, only to be required to install some app, granting you permission to view the content? This is a prime trait of a walled community. Pair this with pop ups, advertisements patterning the sides of our webpages, and the fact that our social activities has moved from a physical to a digital place. It is easy to see how our attention is the true currency on the net.

Rarely do we ever find ourselves sitting in a quiet room with no electronic devices or books to draw our attention. It is said as a culture we avoid moments of inaction or boredom because they have no value. However it is said our brain is highly active during down times. Dr. Michael Rich, a professor at Harvard Medical School put it this way in a 2010 New York Times article: “Downtime is to the brain what sleep is to the body.” According to a report from the University of California, Sand Diego in twenty years from 1980-2008 our consumption of information has increased by 350 percent, while our downtime continues to shrink. It is said the average American consumes 34 gigabytes of content and 100,000 words every singe day. Our consuming habits are damaging our natural chemical brainwork.

“When we consume media — from watching TV to surfing the Net, and from playing videogames to using social media — we’re triggering the brain chemical dopamine. Dopamine creates a “high,” and we are wired to do what it takes to maintain this elevated state. When the dopamine levels decrease, we begin to look for diversions that will restore the high.”

When we are not stimulated and thus a decrease in dopamine we feel bored. While we believe multitasking is one of those golden positive traits one can possess, research says heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information and experience more stress. Even after multitasking ends our brain continues on with fractured thinking and lack of focus (our brains off computers). This is where schools come in. Schools prepare students for a future of success, so naturally it reasons that schools should prepare kids to be effective with digital tools and technology. However, students must also be taught how to be mindful of their habits when using digital tools and how web connectivity is shaping their brains. Several studies show that the power of mindfulness mediation or conscious thought of your actions improve functioning, reduce stress, anxiety and aggression.

“The contemporary rise of attention deficit disorder, a condition seemingly linked to the ubiquity of media nets, only underscores how much we need to treat attention as a craft, at once a skill to be learned and a vessel in flight. But the name of this chronic syndrome also contains a clue. For it is precisely disorder that we need to learn to pay attention to, because in that turbulence lies our own future manifold. The mind is an instrument, and we practice scales so that we may improvise with spontaneous grace.” – Erik Davis, Techgnosis.