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Is being connected 24/7 aiding our ability to learn or are we all suffering from 'inane information overload' as a consequence?

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Pete Roberts
9 April 2011

There can be little doubt that services delivered over the internet offer tremendous possibilities to aid learning and make it easier for us all to stay in touch.  But with such access being increasingly available on devices such as phones, tablets and even ipods - are we a little too well connected for our own good? Is it possible the technology we think is helping us learn is also a massive distraction when trying to study? Is it getting out of hand and approaching an addiction?

  • Do you really need to know that Sally in Sheffield has just had toast for breakfast or that Fred is still enjoying his skiing holiday?
  • Do you wake up in the night and find yourself checking your email, Facebook or Twitter?
  • Do you announce your every move and thought? Could you stop if you tried?

Please share your thoughts below.....

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Javid Ahmad
1:19pm 10 April 2011

This is quite a complex topic and can be approached or broken down into a number of areas.

Firstly we have the technology availability and ease of access through home computers and mobile devices to actually stay connected if we so wish. As a consequence of living in a time of tremendous growth in digital content It is difficult to shut oneself away from its reach even if we wanted to. Just go on a bus or a train or a walk to the shops and you will be confronted with the presence of connectedness all around you.

Being able to express oneself online and I take this in its broadest terms or having a digital presence or existence of some kind is now considered a crucial aspect of one’s self or facet to the character we associate with that person often not drawing a distinction between on-line and offline activities, but taking these (the virtual and real-world) as one when forming a view of an individual, and there is every indication that this value will become more embedded in society.

If a fundamental part of how we measure a person is increasingly informed by digital expression through being connected, one development of this is for people to unsurprisingly interface more with connected technology, all the while accessing and consuming more digital content.

We are largely free to choose how connected we wish to be. However by not being connected people may be marginalised for not being seen as ‘relevant’ or ‘current’. The warnings about the importance of learning to use the internet more than ten years ago because it would be the future, has turned out to be rather true. I see young an older people who feel resigned to the fact that they are not addressing this ‘gap’ in their daily or weekly functions’. However are they right to feel this way about themselves?

Some people can be quite focused and directed in the way they use the internet as a tool and are able to carefully control how connected they will allow themselves to be and more able than others at avoiding distractions within the sea of information available online. So perhaps it is not any different to spending long periods of time sitting in front of the television?

I sense there is an underlying fear of what could happen if people do not stay as connected as they are, both in a professional and socio-cultural sense. For example I have observed how it takes time for someone to pick up from where they left off prior to going on leave in a work place situation. The high level of technological processes and digital systems and workflows they (employees) must be comfortable in using has to be quickly nursed back to good operational health. Workers in many IT and related fields are increasingly expected to be more productive through learning new skills and applying these in the work place by acquiring knowledge obtained often out formal work hours.

Global economies are going through huge transformations in very short periods of time and it is unlikely that the issue of information overload will go away any time soon. With some optimism I see that  the technology that has robbed many of us of the precious resource we call ‘time’, will also be developed and is being developed to such a degree that will enable us regain some of that time back. However, as individuals I would concede that we will always be fighting a losing battle against the growth of information.

Pete Roberts
8:34am 11 April 2011

With me this boils down to a time management issue. What used to be a work / life balance question for me has become more complex and there's now an online life / real life aspect.

I am very happy to use the OU's VLE on my iPhone as it means I can check in when I choose and contribute to the forums and so on. On the other hand, I won't access my work email using it - I've done that in the past and found myself reading it at all hours of the day. Work crept into my home life.

I had a similar issue with Facebook. Early on it seemed a great way of staying in touch with people I knew scattered across the globe. Then the Facebook app on the iPhone meant I could check in on my friends anywhere I was. It was just too easy! It also seemed the signal to noise ratio went down and there was more and more stuff to read. It was taking too much time for very little benefit.

So - I deleted the Facebook app and closed my account as an experiment. And I don't feel any less connected to my friends. Friends are important of course, but I don't need to know their every move. Information overload is bad enough without adding to it!

Fiona Strawbridge
9:41pm 17 April 2011

I am getting increasingly concerned about how much time I spend checking email, twitter, facebook - flicking from source to source - even when I'm at events which are in themselves interesting. I've weaned myself off late night 'just going to check email before bed' having realised it was messing up my sleep but am aware I am still fairly addicted to being up-to-date.  Anyway there was a good article by Ian Price in the Guardian yesterday on work life balance which looks at the effect on our powers of concentration - and on general stress levels - of the encroachment of connectivity and work into our home lives:

Have just ordered a book written by the author - The Activity Illusion: Why we Live to Work in the 21st Century and How to Work to Live Instead - and hope to mend my ways... a bit...

Pete Roberts
12:47pm 19 April 2011

Thanks for that link Fiona. Interesting read. "Research by the University of Toronto suggests that 12% of the average company's payroll is soaked up by the unproductive use of work email". That's so shocking I was tempted to forward that around at work for everyone to read....

Javid Ahmad
10:14pm 27 April 2011 (Edited 10:28pm 27 April 2011)

I think we are still at the beginning of the curve in our understanding of what moving from a linear way of digesting and interpreting information (reading books) to one with multiple feeds with more inputs and outputs actually means. Its true we have more technological gadgets to stay connected and so more to keep us distracted, but could it not be argued that the benefits of having too much information far outweigh not having access to so much information and being so connected.

I don’t mind being connected as much as I am, but I do mind not having time to digest and think and reflect on ideas and thoughts that I receive through being connected. Always being connected is a bit like being in a car where you see bits and pieces as you drive along. Certain sights and sounds may grab your attention, but mostly it’s superficial and most of what you have seen and experienced on that journey is lost soon after you reach your destination. To actually learn something about what you have seen requires you to get out and spend some time in taking a closer look, maybe from different angles which reveal more information etc, and that means stopping the car or pressing the pause button on your internet connection.

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