[iDC] attention and the classroom

Michael Bauwens michelsub2003 at yahoo.com
Sat Jun 13 05:50:30 UTC 2009

Hi Eric,

I wonder about your use of the concept of 'monolithic' and what it exactly means

if you'd say monopolistic it's easy to understand in terms of their dominance

but the information on them is very far from monolithic, as is their usage in terms of attention diversity

so I find your comparison with a lecture confusing, since the use of these media, with multitasking, short attention spans and multi-tasking is almost exactly the opposite ...

thanks for explaining,


----- Original Message ----
> From: Eric Gordon <eric_gordon at emerson.edu>
> To: idc at mailman.thing.net
> Sent: Tuesday, June 9, 2009 10:46:03 PM
> Subject: [iDC] attention and the classroom
> I've been following the conversation about the Internet as playground  
> and factory with great interest and have been inspired to chime in.  
> Lately I've been thinking about that most mysterious currency of the  
> Internet: user attention.  Certainly, the economy of the Internet  
> trades in it.  As Frank pointed out awhile back: "We all “pay  
> attention” (literally and figuratively) at monolithic sites like  
> Google, Facebook, and eBay."  Their business model is premised on how  
> much we pay attention and how little we stray.  What's interesting to  
> me is how this model of monolithic attention gathering has  
> similarities to the models of attention we have established for the  
> classroom.  Students should pay total attention to the professor.  
> Distractions like open windows, buzzing from florescent light bulbs,  
> chatter in the hallway, or god forbid, laptops and cell phones,  
> threaten to chip away at the age old concept of undivided attention.  
> In fact, these distractions threaten to turn classroom attention into  
> an economy - where there is exchange and value for glances, foci, and  
> thoughts.  In the 1970s, Erving Goffman gave a lecture called "The  
> Lecture."  In it, he challenges the dominance of the subject of the  
> lecture and its corresponding forward facing gaze and suggests that,  
> in fact, students also pay attention to what he calls "the custard" of  
> the situation - that stuff, including the joke before the lecture  
> begins, the notes on the table, the noises in the room.  All of this  
> composes the situation and necessarily, the attention of students  
> flows in and out of the custard and subject at hand.
> The Internet provides a new way into the context Goffman introduced  
> decades ago.  Open laptops with live twittering, web searching, SMS -  
> all of this is part of the custard of interaction and part of the  
> economy of attention that composes the situation of the classroom.  
> Instead of banning these technologies from the classroom, as many a  
> university is want to do, the answer is instead to harness them and to  
> actively participate in establishing the rules of the economy.  In an  
> article I recently completed with my colleague David Bogen, I refer to  
> this process as "designing choreographies of attention."  (The  
> complete article can be found here: 
> http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/3/2/000049.html) 
> .    We argue that educators should not fall back on monolithic models  
> of undivided attention, and instead engage in this kind of design,  
> which can transform the space of the classroom - complicating the  
> relationships between front and back, professor and student, and peer  
> to peer.  In this case, the particular and thoughtful appropriation of  
> Internet tools challenges the traditional economies of attention -  
> both those established by the professorate centuries ago as well as  
> those perpetuated by Google and its ilk.  Despite its dominant  
> business models, the Internet can help us rethink traditions; it can  
> help us break down barriers and transform spaces.  I'm interested in  
> seeing this happen in the classroom.  I'm interested in using these  
> tools to harness distraction as a means of producing more vibrant (and  
> dare I say focused) educational spaces.
> I'm quite interested to know how others respond to this proposition  
> and specifically how it might feed into the larger discussion about  
> labor.  Indeed, students' attention is labor, whether it's undivided  
> or not.
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