An article in this week’s Wall Street Journal, entitled “How to End the Age of Inattention,” provides some excellent food for thought.
We have all heard much discussion about the recent proliferation of multi-tasking in our everyday lives, as many of us text while walking, read e-mail while on the phone, or update our Facebook status while on vacation. This article explores whether the trend of constantly divided attention may have contributed to some of the issues that have been in the media this year, namely the JP Morgan loss and the secret service scandal.
The article highlights a fascinating class, which has been woven into the Yale Medical School curriculum, called “Enhancing Observational Skills,” where students visit a museum to look at classic paintings. They are then asked to describe health related aspects of the people depicted in the artwork.
Apparently, some version of this course has been instituted in a number of schools across the country. According to Linda Friedlaender, the Curator of Education at the Yale Center for British Art:
“We are trying to slow down the students. They have an urge to come up with a diagnosis immediately and get the right answer.”
This is fascinating to me, as I am generally more likely to see the forest than the trees. To link increased multi-tasking and a reduction in attention spans to the JP Morgan and secret service scandals is intriguing.
While I agree that shorter attention spans, which have clearly become a fundamental component of our society are troubling, I am not sure that this is what led to the scandals the author cites. Scandals like these, especially the secret service scandal, have been a constant, at least in my lifetime. And I am quite sure that any historian could highlight some juicy scandals from the past.
But the author raises an interesting point. Courses such as the one highlighted at the Yale Medical School serve a need. They enable students to step away from all the technological innovations that have been developed over the past 50 years, and forces them to depend more on skills that have been there all along – skills of observation and attention.
Personally, I think this may be a promising new type of progress.
What do you think? Do you think that there is a correlation between the reduced attention span and recent scandals, as the Wall Street Journal article posits? Are you concerned about the shortened attention spans cited in the article? If you have kids, are you doing anything to try and increase their attention span or to encourage uninterrupted activity? Do you have any tools you use to help yourself with this? Do you use any specific exercises to help you or your kids pay more attention to details? (I could use advice on that last one – in fact on all of these – myself!)
I hope you will take a time to share your thoughts. Thank you for reading!