Competing with Mobile Devices for Attention

Via Twitter, we noticed an article highlighting one of the often heard challenges to the use of mobile devices in shared listening sessions such as during Bible study or sermons. In this article, the author highlights this competition for attention. Here’s a snippet:

…As a preacher and professor, it seems that I’m going to have to get used to competing with the increasingly brazen use of personal devices. States wouldn’t have to pass laws against texting while driving if people didn’t do it and then crash. As one who cares about teaching and small group gatherings, I wonder how we can overaccept this development as theologian and priest Sam Wells suggests, borrowing from the language of improvisational acting (Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics, Brazos Press, 2004)…

Read the rest of the article at New Media Project.

This was our comment on the article:

Indeed, the social behaviors aspect of mobile tech is unsettling, especially within those groups where we hold that giving or having undivided attention is key to learning. I’d say though that the response to this is a sword with two edges (don’t all swords have two edges is the next realization):

– what about the presenter/teacher is not engaging enough to keep people off their mobile devices? Could it be the lesson, the location, the repetition of the behavior, etc.? If those can be modified, even if once per month, what does that do to reengage that attention span?

– what about the lessons towards spiritual development and concentrated disciplines need to be better emphasized (Joshua 1:8 kind of lessons)? How do you teach discipline towards hearing, meditating/contemplation, and study? Is the Sunday school/sermon even teaching such behaviors, or assuming that cultural learning (“you learn quietly because we’ve always learned this way”) will override the behaviors of digitally-enabled cultures?

I don’t disagree that its distracting, nor that its a problem for many. I do think that addressing the solution requires that we actually think about the causes of the symptoms, rather than the manifested behaviors.

Similar conversations (to my comment) can be found in this article at Leon Paternoster and this article at I’d Rather Be Writing.

Besides the items discussed in that article, what might your thoughts towards fostering attention behaviors? Could this include things that devices can do to enable persons with varying degrees of attention spans to better digest lessons in a respectful manner to speakers/teachers?

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