You hear talk about Internet overload/addiction, but this very specific form has crossed my radar multiple times in recent days. In students, specifically. To the extent of failing multiple courses. Because they use laptops for everything, and YouTube is always a Cmd-Tab away, and whether your itch is Team Fortress 2 or cat breeding or string quartets or tentacles, there’s always something new and fresh there to scratch it. So teachers don’t get heard and homework doesn’t get done. My hunch is it’s a real thing. Anyone else?


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From: Hanan Cohen (May 29 2016, at 23:49)

Quoting from "How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds" by Tristan Harris

Hijack #6: Bottomless bowls, Infinite Feeds, and Autoplay

Another way to hijack people is to keep them consuming things, even when they aren’t hungry anymore.

How? Easy. Take an experience that was bounded and finite, and turn it into a bottomless flow that keeps going. and social media sites like Netflix, YouTube or Facebook autoplay the next video after a countdown instead of waiting for you to make a conscious choice (in case you won’t). A huge portion of traffic on these websites is driven by autoplaying the next thing.


Read the whole thing here. Lot's to think about.


From: Gavin B (May 30 2016, at 01:21)

WH Auden, 1986. “A Short Defense of Poetry”, (paywall)


“The reading public has learned how to consume even the greatest fiction as if it were a can of soup. It has learned to misuse even the greatest music as background noise. Business executives can buy great paintings and hang them on their walls as status trophies. Tourists can ‘do’ the greatest architecture in an hour’s guided tour. But poetry, thank God, the public still find indigestible.”

How then can we make the html page more attractive/instructive to our current TL;DR generation?

My 2¢ here:

See also

"Rethinking Knowledge in the Internet Age" By David Weinberger


From: Larry Reid (May 30 2016, at 06:25)

I have to think it is. I'm lucky. My son decided that in high school, he was going to work. But he has a lot of really smart friends who are struggling, and they all are into the video game of the day, whatever that might be.


From: Michał Tat (May 30 2016, at 22:26)

Since infinite content and auto-play-next are features that all TV channels have had for years, your complaint is really that the content is more interesting now, even though the production value has lowered in most cases.

I think it's the same kind of criticism that people express by saying that today's pot is much stronger than the stuff they've smoked in the 70's. Indeed it is. Things do get better. You'll have to moderate yourself.


From: Nathan (May 31 2016, at 15:38)

Personal experience says that there are always things I prefer over doing hard work. I think the key observation regarding YouTube (as other commenters have pointed out) is that the day runs out of hours before YouTube runs out of mindless entertainment.

For me, at least, the two factors to counteract that are first the tipping point where a task changes from "hard work" to "something I know how to do", and second good old-fashioned self-discipline. I apply the self-discipline to make myself do the task until it becomes something my brain can get a handle on. After that it's just an exercise in not losing steam (which is why I live in a different hemisphere than the rest of my team; fewer distractions...).

The modern world requires more self-discipline than ever before because distractions are omnipresent and effectively infinite. When I was at university, I never took my laptop to class and took notes on an old-fashioned notebook by hand to avoid distraction. These days I'm not sure a student could *avoid* taking a laptop, or tablet, or at least a smartphone that's more powerful than my laptop was to class.

I don't know how we help today's students. It's been less than 10 years since I graduated, yet the world students are in right now is vastly different than the world when I was a student. But I feel like the right answer isn't telling people to buckle down and work harder, and that's all we've got so far.


From: Greg (Jun 01 2016, at 13:51)

In Australia there's a lot of talk about spending more money on better teachers and schools because of poor results.

I'm convinced it's not the teachers it's the kids with their devices being distracted, in class, at home.

We can't be home all the time because of needing to work to pay fir the expensive education, so we have to trust they do the right thing.


From: Rob (Jun 02 2016, at 06:19)

Read Clemens' account of Tom Sawyer in school, or Huck Finn in church (or Dickens' Louisa dealing with the teacher McChoakumchild)-- if a kid wants a distraction, he/she will find one. The intertubes, as in all else, just makes it a little easier for a young person to feed into their natural ADHD behaviour and avoid the unnatural behaviour expected by formal group settings like school or church.

I know a thing or two about addiction. There are three components to it, in varying degrees:

physical dependency (which the medical people focus on, opiates being the classic example), which doesn't seem relevant here;

bingeing behaviour, where moderation or any kind of control in use, once started, is effectively impossible (which is what the media and police focus on, crack being the classic example);

and the obsession, where the addict spends most of their non-using time thinking about using, planning to use, acquiring the means to use, and making arrangements to use: everything in their life is arranged around their use first and every other need or interest second (check out the pot-head's stream of consciousness in Infinite Jest). This is the very hard part of an addiction to treat of course.

If a binger's behaviour can be modified to the point that they are able to control use, then it really isn't an addiction, which pretty much by definition means you can never use safely again, which is why sex and gambling "addiction" for example remain controversial in addiction circles.

But the obsessive behavioural component MAY apply here. But it may also be a child rebelling against the unnatural expectations of the school (or job, or family), and YouTube is just the most readily available distraction.


From: 205guy (Jun 11 2016, at 23:47)

My family is currently visiting the inlaws, so I have lots of time to get projects done around the house. Except sometime I pick up a tablet and read Wikipedia for hours. Actually, some work days I open a Wikipedia tab, then follow links and never get back to work--or even get to bed before 4am. For some reason, I crave the neverending information, the links from one topic to another, and all of a sudden I'm learning about the Ottoman Empire or the discovery of deep time (I suggest you NOT google that).

I've always had this "distraction" even before internet at work. Back then I would focus on non-priority work (a cool script to organize my files) and procrastinate the real work. The other comment about complexity and breaking down work strikes a chord. Just saying get to work sometimes works, but not always. I've often wondered if it was an addiction, it can certainly impact my life negatively, but I don't have the longing. When not on the Internet, I'm blissfully engaged in what m doing.

I'm in my 40s, so no Wikipedia or YouTube on a laptop when I was at the university. But I spent a lot of time playing Tetris and Civilization (no number because the first one) on a 386. Also just hanging out in the student union playing pool or pinball (just one more game).

Back then I had a class that was essentially "relationships for engineers." The main takeaway was to learn to empathize with people, not always solve problems. The teacher was awesome and well liked, the class was more of a retreat at his house-conference center in the woods. I definitely learned the lesson, and it helped me in life. I wish there was a class like that to learn motivation, work habits, and non-procrastination (I did get sent to a 7-habits seminar, but it was procedural, not transformative). It would've helped me, and maybe that's what we need now.


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