Posts Tagged ‘Conscious computing’

In tonight’s class, I tried to weave a discussion of the issues at hand with some training on critical thinking about claims and evidence and writing literature reviews.

We worked in a problem-solution format. We identified the problem discussed in the readings and the claims to support it. We then evaluated the evidence a bit. Note that an argument is only as strong as its evidence. And the evidence, if it’s a research study, is only as good as its methods.

I then talked about the Introduction and the Literature Review. Here are some older slides that capture some of the same thoughts:

You can also see these posts where I document my experience and the emotional work it took to write a literature review: part 1, part 2.

In the last part of class, which I wish lasted longer, we talked about solutions to the issues related to distraction and too many demands on our attention.

Most of the solutions students volunteered were about reducing the number of available stimuli in order to limit the demands on bottom-up attention. That’s a good, but not sufficient, strategy.

In addition, it is useful to train top-down attention and to strengthen the “muscle” that controls it volitionally. I showed you a very simple exercise of observing the attention and brining it back to one focal point (in this case, the breath). I would also like to share with you what I have learned, through mindful observation, that works for me:

  • Not checking email and social media first thing in the day. My days are better when I give myself a bit of quiet time first thing in the morning.
  • Avoiding switch-tasking. In his book, Alex SK Pang differentiates between the multitasking we do when working on one goal (e.g. writing a research paper) and the switch-tasking we do when we perform tasks related to various goals. My day works better if I focus on one thing at a time, and do not keep email open all the time.
  • Taking breaks. I need to take brief breaks in between tasks where I do nothing. I might take a few deep breaths, or check in to see how I feel or what my body feels like. Just a quiet moment. I sometimes use a timer such as ProtectYourVision and when I do, I get less tired during the day and I can sustain performance for longer periods of time.
  • If my mind is busy with all sorts of thoughts that keep me from understanding what I read, I sometimes just jot them down on a piece of paper. This way, I don’t have to keep worrying about forgetting to buy cat food. I offload it on a piece of paper I can revisit later.
  • I try to think twice before giving in to the compulsion to check my email or Twitter.
  • I also practice yoga and try to meditate. I have learned a lot about myself and about self-observation that way.

Most days, it is hard to keep to conscious computing. Stress takes over, and I don’t allow myself a break, or my mind races from thing to think and I try to get multiple things done and task-switch quickly. Those days burn me out and deplete me. I have noticed that they are really not healthy and if I string too many of these days together my mind gets in really bad shape – a state of exhaustion and depletion that resembles clinical depression. One of the many reasons I love teaching is that for the time I am in class, there is nowhere else I need to be and nothing else to think about. For me, that’s a very restorative experience.

Just like attention wanders away and needs to be gently be brought back to a focal point, I sometimes drift away from these practices that are good for me, get in some unpleasant state, then navigate my way back to them. It’s a journey, but one worth attempting!

What works for you? What’s your experience like? Also, Pang suggests taking a “digital Sabbath” once a week. Would you be interested in trying this together one Saturday?

While I’m a technology lover, I do agree with the point of view that by using technology (especially cell phones) so much we miss out on or plain avoid the opportunity to be alone.

There is a lot of self-knowledge to be gained from being alone and free of incoming information. But it often hurts and is scary. So we avoid it by reaching for connection (aka cell phone). Sherry Turkle argues that the kind of connection we get this way is not always authentic and satisfying. It is a cheap replacement, like a cheap “nutritional” drink is a replacement for a healthy, nourishing meal.

Anyway, arguments like the one above are boring. But this comedian explains it much better on Conan:

Can you try to pay attention and notice when you are using your phone to avoid being alone? Can you try practicing being alone, just sitting there, without music or any other stimulus, for maybe 5 minutes every other day, and see what happens?

We will talk more in class about this in a few weeks when we discuss the topic of attention and distraction.