Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Mindful (in)attention?

| 12 Comments

Reading Time: 3 minutes

This post is inspired by a post by Alan Levine where he makes this call:

Because, I conjecture, if you can hone your senses for seeing nuanced suggestions of good/worthy/intriguing ideas out there in the information flow, you can get much more out of it than just getting soaked.

I don’t know. Play along with me. Tell me what clues your senses, if you really do have an attention span less than a goldfish, how well do you use it?

His post was partly inspired by some tweets I made y/day based on the below video, posted on Tania’s blog

It’s a cool video and a bit of a slap in the face, about social media, which I think is exaggerated but has lots of truth behind it. I got kinda pissed off at around 1:50-1:57 where the guy talks about our attention span now being less than that of a goldfish. Partly, it sounds unsubstantiated and reminded me of an earlier post by Alan on clichés running around on the internet and people not stopping to do proper research and find citations. I “researched” it and found at first some silly refs, one of which links to what the blogger is calling “the national center for…” Something, but which is really a link to a website of ppl who like playing with stats!!!! And even then, that website shows our attention span was never really that much better than a goldfish’s. But umm i don’t know how credible that source is (and come to think of it, how do you measure a goldfish’s attention span in a way comparable to human beings?). Besides, other things affect attention span other than social media. Ahem. I am right now sitting at the office of my mobile provider writing this blog as the customer service person is off doing something else. Want to write this before i pick my daughter up from daycare (i started writing this while commuting) and soon i will be going out with family so won’t be able to get back to this til later…

And just before writing this post, Andrea Rehn posted a comment on Tania’s blog, sharing her class assignment about mindfulness (on Tania’s blog), which seems to be one approach to answer Alan’s question. So here’s me.

So… No time for me to do the mindfulness thing NOW, and I like Andrea’s assignment in terms of asking students to do the exercise more than once… So will blog soon after I have had a chance of doing it a few times 🙂

An important question i ask myself is this, though. If i was not glued to my screen so often (particularly when i am with my child, which i should and do feel guilty about), what would i be doing? And i know the answer. I’d be talking on the phone or (even more likely) reading a book. Sure, smartphones make it easier to do these two things more often than usual (more choice of books on kindle than i could ever carry in my bag) but still. Other ppl would be watching TV. When real life is not engaging (not blaming real life) you zone out in some way or another. I don’t know if there are full-time moms out there (like i used to be the first year of my child’s life) who are capable of full-time attention to their child without talking on the phone, watching TV, or checking a screen. It’s tough spending lots of time at home caring for a child alone. It drives you crazy socially or intellectually, or it did for me anyway.

But that’s a side rant. Back to the mindfulness thing. I’ll do Andrea’s thing and write again reflecting on that.

12 Comments

  1. I loved the video and don’t mind the “art” of using sketchy “facts” to spoof our belief in statistics and imaginary studies. (The collapse of public discourse into the corrupted dialog of marketing and persuasion is a whole topic in itself–which I won’t touch here.)

    A few years ago I wrote an article for a writing class based on the assumption that during periods of majority rule in Parliamentary democracies it is cheaper to keep trained seals than to bother with paying legislators to all agree with each other.

    We were living in British Columbia at the time and since the Provincial Legislature Building is located at almost sea level across from the inner harbor in Victoria the necessary flooding of the building for the seals was confirmed by the Legislative Building engineering department as quite “doable” though some electrical outlets would need to be moved up. The Sargent at Arms himself had no problem with trained seals and thought they may actually be better behaved than the humans he normally dealt with.

    Unfortunately, when I called the Vancouver Aquarium about diet and care of seals (they had a number of “working seals” in their noon shows for school kids) it turns out that seals cost more than humans to keep. First, the rules on living conditions and food quality for captive animals are absurdly complex–even higher than captive humans in the prison system which is higher than Legislators actually make in pay and benefits. Second there are many, many animal rights advocates in the Province. They outnumber human rights advocates 10 to 1, so each seal would need to be accompanied by a keeper as advocate. Plus someone to represent the keeper’s lawyer and probably a seal psychologist should the seal fall into a fit of stress-induced barking, ball-passing and rude flipper gestures.

    So sadly, the price of accuracy was the collapse of my story’s contention that seals were economically and behaviorally an advantageous substitute for humans. That can spoil a writers career you know?

    As for being a Mom, my Mother worked, read lots (and lots more) of murder mysteries, had a pottery studio in the basement, took Japanese brush painting courses and often left us at the library for hours. We didn’t really notice. One time I (age 5) was digging in a gopher tunnel and the gopher bit into my index finger and wouldn’t let go. I ran home crying and my Mom immediately lit a match and set its ass on fire. The gopher immediately let go, dropped to the floor and ran away. All those skills and interests in one person seemed cool to me.

    • OK, I got stuck on the animal rights activists “outnumber human rights advocates 10 to 1” (is that a FACT? because if so, I feel soooo sorry for the humans). This can turn into a long story.

      But RE: moms and attention. One of the things I think is important is that kids need to learn to play without adults, too. When she was younger I used to try to give her my full attention all the time and she ended up feeling she could not play alone. Until a friend pointed it out. I realized if I am doing something productive I will WANT To let her play alone sometimes, which is GOOD for her. Nowadays, she’s older and a lot of what she plays is also fun for ME, so I play play-doh and lego with her, then I have to actually FORCE myself to step back so she can “do her thing” which, often entails mixing up all the play-doh colors together (I had to learn to let go of that one) and undoing everything on lego then screaming for me to help her fix certain parts she’s stuck on. Fun stuff 😉

      • Based the animal rights 10 to 1 ratio on an old estimate from membership lists we kept for our Amnesty International writing circle. We logged 120 members but only 10 to12 were active. The Anti-Aquarium animal rights people logged hundreds of members with lots of active people going to demonstrations. It’s easier to shed tears over the treatment animals than humans:-( (Can’t remember their actual title but didn’t like their wimpy politics and preferred the Paul Watson Sea Shepard group–so I’m biased). Anyway, my numbers are likely total crap but “feel” right.

        For Ashley – try “Mindfulness” by Ellen J. Langer (original 1989) > http://www.ellenlanger.com/books/3/mindfulness https://learn.canvas.net/courses/411/discussion_topics/8738/page-3 <:
        "I am currently working in a classroom where 80% of the girls are ex-pats. These girls have spent 1-10 years of their lives attending school in their home countries. They are now all together in grade 10 with a very diverse range of backgrounds and experiences. They are studying in a totally new country, system and all mixed in together. Among my girls, the Egyptian students are consistently some of the most humble, hardworking and appreciative. Your post outlining the state of education for girls in Egypt has enlightened me in a very real way. Thank you."

        • What’s that quote, by whom, referring to what? Someone commenting on Langer’s book? (Rushing between #aln14 conference and this)

          • I have a picture of you walking across the street texting and being hit by a bus Maha. The quote about Egyptian students is a comment from the discussion pages at Educating Girls and refers to one of the course participants’ experience teaching. Sorry about dropping in out of context only I hesitate to name a person posting in a course discussion. That said, I think it speaks well to the Egyptian education system and suspected you’d be interested:-) I’ll email you the whole posing train and where you can find it.

            • I’d be curious to read the person talking about edu for girls in Egypt. I am in that MOOC but can’t find time for it. Even missed the one-week video availability

              • Week 1 Discussion: “Outside My Window”
                Page #3 half way down the comments starts with Atef Ahmed (Education Consultant & Teacher Egypt Education Management) and ends with Katie who’s bio says: “30 year old Canadian teacher working internationally” and nothing else.

                I can do more digging if you want. That’s a very complementary comment Katie made–make you feel good about they system you work in?

  2. Maha – your post has stuck with me over the past couple of days. I’ve been recently thinking about “mindfulness” as a way to deal with the stress and mental clutter that seem inevitable in our busy lives (though I dislike the term and the spiritual associations that often seem to go with it… perhaps “presentness” better describes what I’m working on.)

    Your comments about your daughter particularly resonated. I recall reading something when I was pregnant about how the average parent spends only 7 minutes a day interacting with their young child. I thought that was ridiculous, and clearly I would do better. And now, with a 3 year old, I can see where that number comes from – much of the time I’m interacting with my son I’m also on the computer, doing housework, or trying to get him dressed/washed/fed/etc. When I do focus on him I feel like I’m neglecting something else that “needs” to be done, or I’m frustrated because I’d rather be using my spare time to pursue my own interests (sadly crawling around the floor playing with plastic superheroes isn’t high on my list of life passions). Often, instead of being mindful, I simply feel guilty over the list of ‘shoulds’ I continually carry around with me.

    What I’m trying to do is take moments to really be present in each activity I do, and to really focus on one aspect of value: when I play with my son I focus on the sound of his laugh, or the imaginative way he voices each of the characters he’s playing with; I notice how the colours of the trees change from day to day as I walk the dog; I pick out only on one or two of the items that pour through my Feedly each day to really think about and engage with. I’ve not got it figured out yet, and it doesn’t always work. I don’t think our society allows for or permits a great deal of mindfulness, but for our sanity we maybe need to each find a way to separate the sound from the noise.

    • Loved ur response, Ashley and will try to do the same. Btw, I read ur comment while being online at #aln14 and when i saw ur name i remembered how we were both virtual participants at #et4online last time 🙂

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