Week 7: Read This Post In A Funny Accent

I legitimately worry that the idea people will most internalise about this talk is that memory is enabled by accents.

Your memory does not work particularly well. For the most part, your ability to estimate mathematical odds is linked to your ability to recall something easily. An example Dan Gilbert used was asking whether or not there are more four-letter words structured r_ _ _ or _ _ r _. Since most people find it easy to think of words that start with r, they typically answer the first, when the second type of word structure is much more common.

This isn’t anyone’s fault, but it’s generally been a problem with education that our ability to recall things is a little haphazard, and a large part of education has been through the population of memory. Rote learning, it’s typically called; you do a sum, and then you do a dozen more, similar sums, hoping to internalise how those sums interact. Research has an echo to this; you usually have to look at numerous examples of a thing before you can reasonably call them data.

Multitasking as outlined in class is indicated by the texts we saw as an ill to education. It diminishes our ability to retain information, it pulls our focus away from the education, and oh, won’t someone think of the children. I thought it was quite interesting the way the sources referred to people’s perceptions of their skill at multitasking, saying that people are, generally worse than they think they are. This is probably true, but meaninglessly so – because people are almost always bad at self-assessment.

When researching, though, you will bring your own biases into the exchange, deeper and more foundational assumptions than you may necessarily have recognised. In the case of this multitasking-and-memory input subject, for example, we’ve been looking at the way memories are formed and the ease with which that creates actionable data, but, isn’t that assuming that recall of facts is education? Susan Greenfield dismissed the idea of fact recall as education, which seems strange to me, since memorising a list of facts was very much in the older, pre-computive model of education.

In our research, we may find our questions are malformed; we started by asking Is multitasking bad for education?, and after sifting, we find ourselves with the more specific Multitasking is bad for factual retention, but is that good or bad for education. Can we consider that?

Digging underneath our research assumptions is very important. You do need to be able to show a point where you’re willing to stop, but sometimes if your approach has a faulty assumption in it, you should be willing to overturn that, and sift downwards.

In the case of multitasking, what if multitasking is bad for factual retention, but the practice of calling and recognising external information has other, more useful effects for our educational models? What if what’s failing right now isn’t education, but the ending of the need for rote memorisation in education? What if multitasking as part of an interconnected society reflects an intuitive connection to large, external data structures, part of our extelligence?

Try to check your assumptions. The nature of the media landscape is one where models crafted in the 1900s are trying – awkwardly – to apply to experiences in the 21st century, and not always are those attempts elegant.

4 thoughts on “Week 7: Read This Post In A Funny Accent

  1. Multitasking is bad for a thing that is already bad? Yes, this is a helpful way to understand the biases behind multitasking research, that in focusing on Bad Thing A, they’re actively masking Bad Thing B. What we don’t have is a ton of research on the impact of rote learning itself. I have a curious and frankly embarrassing recall of 70s song lyrics, but in a practical sense I am currently wrestling with the problem of remembering the name of healthcare workers who introduce themselves to me, and I wish they all wore badges.

    Imagining a public reader of this post, I think it would help for you to anchor e.g. Susan Greenfield with a reference.

    1. Oh goodness, yes. I thought I had one of those – though it was just one of the moodle resources

      EDIT: There we go, added.

      As to the subject matter, on a more personal level, I am deeply bound in with this subject because I know my own multitasking/media consumption is heavily predicated towards this. But it’s been massively enlightening to me as an adult that when I find myself wondering – about anything! – I can simply reach for a device and try to find out. That sense, that intuitive desire to explore, is a byproduct of multitasking; the notion that I can, when I am not particularly focused, chase any errant thought through facts and information and into understanding – is part of why I can casually reference Harvard professors of psychology when discussing videogames, and I fear that by stigmatising the mental mode that enables this, we’re risking teaching people it’s bad to pursue the impulse that lies at the root of I wonder what- as if somehow curiosity is bad for education.

      1. This is a great point to make about multitasking. When we penalise distraction, we’re actually penalising creative thought. My interest here is what we see when we look at the “tasking” part of the word — which is massive expectations of the nature of all thinking as labour capable of efficiency. Should this be the way we look at curiosity?

      2. Oh, and don’t let’s kid ourselves: There are some tasks, that, when they are being done, I want focus on. When I’m writing, for example, being able to eschew most distractions results in work I’m happier with.

        On the other hand, we’re fast approaching a point where data throughput is more valuable than data retention and looking at the side effects of a culture that enables massive throughput rather than retention seems like cart-horse problems to me.

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