Distracted in the Digital Age

As I was doing research for my paper on the unfinished text, I came across an article written by Jesse Stommel called “The Digital Humanities is About Breaking Stuff.” In it, Stommel talks about how the Digital Humanities “breaks” apart literature, so to speak. To support his claim, he cites examples from a Digital Humanities class he taught. One of the assignments he gave the class was to “break apart” Emily Dickinson poem “There’s a Certain Slant of Light.” In order to break apart the poem, his students created word maps, word drawings, and the like. The purpose of the assignment was to force students to look at literature in a different way. The result of the assignment was to open students’ eyes to the different ways of interpreting a text through the tools that technology gives us.

His idea that computers and technology change the way we read and interact with literature is a significant part of claiming that the Digital Humanities is about breaking stuff. Stommel states that when we read a digital text we often become distracted by other stimuli. Because we might be reading a digital text on a smart phone, an ebook, a tablet, a laptop, or otherwise, we are invited to do more than just read the digital text. A reader can switch between his digital text and YouTube, or Facebook, or email, or a news outlet. Now, when we read, we are not simply reading the text at hand. We are reading the digital text and more. The “more” influences our interaction with the digital text. In essence, the age of technology has allowed us to multitask; it embraces distraction.

“The Digital Humanities is About Breaking Stuff” is a digital text and fittingly so, it is multi-modal and gives its user access to links such as websites and videos that exist outside the article. In his discussion on multitasking and reading digital texts, Stommel links his argument to a YouTube video, a brief talk given by Cathy Davidson from Duke University about her book Now You See It. In it, she discusses the way in which this new great shift in learning–technology and the internet–is forcing us to multitask. She states that we often multitask and we don’t even know we’re doing it. She quite literally tells us to calm down. There is nothing wrong with our digital age, nothing wrong with multitasking. In fact, she states that when we find ourselves mutlitasking or becoming distracted when using technology, we should ponder on that distraction. She views distraction in our digital age as helpful. Technology is reshaping the ways in which we think and the ways in which we learn. Instead of being afraid of distraction, we need to embrace distraction and understand how it can be useful in learning.

Here is Cathy Davidson’s short video “Shifting Attention” :

As for my opinion, I’m not sure how I feel about our “shifting attention” and technology’s influence on it. I’m finding it hard to understand how multitasking can be productive rather than confusing or overwhelming. I’ve always been taught to “do one thing at a time.” However, I’ll follow Cathy Davidson’s advice and pay attention to the times I’m multitasking and when that multitasking is helpful. I encourage you to do the same.