The Distracted Mind and Tony Soprano

When students aren’t focused on what they should be doing (such as paying attention in class), they display a disorder that is increasingly common. Obviously much of the problem is driven by social media. It is almost painful for students to ignore their digital devices during a class presentation or discussion.

The more we study the neurological issues, as our brains evolve, the better. As reported by James M. Lang, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, a new book attempts to do just that. From the CHE piece:

For a long time now, I have felt stuck at an impasse on the challenge of how to handle these digital distractions. But a new book on the more general nature of distraction and attention has helped me see some pathways forward. The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World (MIT, 2016) represents a collaboration between neuroscientist Adam Gazzaley and psychologist Larry D. Rosen, and it should be required reading for every teacher today — and probably all humans. In a series of columns, I plan to explore their ideas and how their research can help us reshape our teaching practices.

Please read the entire article, written by an English professor and researcher. The writer’s planned future installments on the subject will be worth keeping an eye out for, and the book mentioned above is undoubtedly worthy of examination.

Perhaps our first task is to admit our own flaws when it comes to distractions. Family dinners today often resemble a gathering of storks, as we crane our necks to stare at tiny screen in our hands, instead of listening to Grandpa talk about the old days. We make choices, because now we can. That’s the core of the issue.

In an episode of “The Sopranos,” mobster Tony is driving his gifted daughter around rural Maine to help her select a college from the three highly selective private schools in the state (that would likely be Bates, Bowdoin, and Colby Colleges). At an intersection he spots a dude who once ratted out the boys, back in New Jersey. The rat is living in the witness protection program in Maine, presumably away from the mob’s reach. Tony stays focused long enough to sweetly deliver his child to a private appointment with the college registrar. During the meeting, however, Tony finds the rat and promptly whacks him, returning in time to retrieve his daughter and continue the college tour, with much father-daughter bonding.

Distractions serve a purpose, but focus remains essential. One thing at a time. We should learn from Mr. Soprano (not the whacking part). Think he’s on Facebook?