Plug In and Tune Out

Saw this interesting blog post from Jon Taplin today.  His idea, in short, is that applications like Twitter, Facebook, etc., are so distracting to the younger generations that we are unable to concentrate enough to achieve “flow” in the Csíkszentmihályi sense.  So we are both 1) less productive, and 2) less happy.

Not entirely implausible…


About Jake Wobig

I teach international relations and comparative politics at Wingate University in Wingate, North Carolina
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13 Responses to Plug In and Tune Out

  1. Ari Kohen says:

    I’m not sure I buy it…unless I’m one of the younger generation any longer. After all, Mike and I wrote a draft of a paper in two weeks…while using both Twitter and Facebook. But it might also be the case that we’re just superstars.

    Not entirely implausible…

  2. Mike Wagner says:

    I don’t know that I buy it either, but Ari is certainly not a member of the younger generation! It’s possible that folks growing up with these tools fail to learn other skills that might have allowed superstars like Ari and Mike to set Twitter aside and write a paper in two weeks.

  3. I think all of the naysayers of the revolution should just retire; frankly, I’m getting really tired of reading this junk.

    When human beings first began cooperating and interacting socially, do you suppose there were cave paintings (assuming those as the media sources) depicting the youth of the era as spending too much time “interacting” or “communicating” to get things done? I can just imagine it:

    “Ergh. You see kids talking to each other? Hmph.”

    “Yeh. *Insert bodily noise here* Why they do that? Why not do thing where one cave person beat up other cave person?”

    “Me say younger generation going downhill faster than sabertooth on that new wheel thing.”

    Seriously, though. They’re communication mediums! What’s the big deal? This is something that should be more explicit in our paper. First, people were unhappy because technology would keep people apart. Now, people are unhappy because they’re not apart? Is there something I’m missing here?

  4. I don’t think I really addressed the main point in my post, but it still stands. I was excited, apparently.

    The thing about tools such as Twitter, Facebook, blogs, wikis, and other Web 2 things is that they are fundamentally altering the way we obtain, process, and use information. That is a good thing, imho. The truly great part of this technological shift is that, by connecting people together tightly, the network created as a result has the potential to amplify one’s intelligence exponentially. (I’ve raved about this before, obviously). It’s called a variety of things: cybernetics, the hive mind, information aggregation, etc. (For those who would denigrate the term cybernetics as science fiction, NASA recently established a campus for the study of it).

    I for one question the motivations of these elitists who denigrate the technological shift (and also find it interesting that this one is using a blog. Hah!). I’m apt to think that they’re scared to death of what is occurring. Ordinary citizens are speaking to each other! They are talking about what’s going on in the world! Our influence is weakening! Of course they’ll continue to write this drivel.

    At best, the most they can do is continue to churn out these outmoded ideas of what constitutes proper social behavior and interaction in a futile attempt to hold on to their monopoly on information. What I want to see someone write is an idea – any idea – offering an alternative. Okay. Twitter is bad. Facebook is awful. What is your alternative? Has anyone picked up a newspaper lately? Watched cable news? That’s what they should be talking about. Those things are horrible.

    Finally, from a research standpoint I am beginning to become interested in whether it’s actually a bad thing that people pay attention so fleetingly to things. I’m guilty (if I should even use the word) of this. I never finish an entire news article anymore; I’ve got stacks of books that are half-completed.

    Why is the length such a gold standard of whether content and information, as well as a person’s attention to these things, are good or bad? Why does attention to an idea transmitted in 140 characters automatically damn me to stupidity? From an evolutionary perspective, do you think we’re even equipped to adequately handle such large chunks of information? After all, mass access to large works and ideas is a relatively new occurrence in the grand scheme of things. I know this last point is definitely half baked, but I’m inclined to wonder if perhaps the reason for these new information technologies’ success is that they key in on a human proclivity to deal in smaller chunks of information than what is presented in older media forms.

    Okay, I’m done now.

  5. Mike Wagner says:

    To me, the problem in the debate is that folks in the Twitter/new communication technology sucks camp focus on all the negative or questionable aspects of the technology They say it is superficial, unsophisticated, not very meaningful, ego-centric…etc. They say these things even though there are lots of kinds of people who use Twitter to build relationships, share areas of mutual interest, disseminate information not being given proper attention by vehicles like the MSM, etc.

    On the other hand, those in the Twitter rocks camp either say that 1.) Twitter is whatever you want it to be (it seems to me that this argument is not falsifiable, and thus, not a productive way to move the conversation forward in my view) or 2.) Twitter is replacing traditional modes of communication. Like radio replaced the newspaper. Like TV replaced the radio and the internet replaced TV. It is another tool and it will likely diminish, but certainly not replace these other modes of communication. It has positive implications and negative implications. On balance, it has a chance to fundamentally alter, but not wholly replace, the traditional ways in which we communicate. That comes with distinct advantages (easier to find folks who don’t live near you, instantaneousness, folks with common interests referring you to things you might like) and disadvantages (in-depth conversations are harder to achieve, could simultaneously help build communities and grow individual narcissim, doesn’t require the same kind of participation as face-to-face group communication and behavior, alters the definition of group (though this could also be good!)).

    I like Gruz’s point about the current state of the media as the “alternative” to Twitter/Facebook/new comm. It is true that there aren’t many shining examples of what is better and I am especially intruiged at the idea of studying whether we are better off with smalle chunks of info and/or fleeting interest in things. The heuristics literature (while not a perfect analog to Mike’s question) would suggest mixed evidence.

  6. I was actually thinking about that on my way in, what with George Miller’s “chunking” of information for processing. That whole seven bits of information idea in cognitive psychology comes to mind.

    I agree on the “whatever you want it to be” not really proving much (though it makes me feel better at night). I guess it’s kind of like somebody asking “what can I do with a hammer?” only to be met with “whatever you want it to be.”

    And chaos ensues.

  7. Ari Kohen says:

    How would one falsify a claim like mine, namely that you can do just about anything you like with Twitter? Find something you can’t do? Here’s one: use it like a hammer.

  8. Mike Wagner says:

    Ari, that’s ridiculous.

  9. Mike Wagner says:

    Oh nertz. I didn’t see the end of Mike G’s post re: the hammer. Eh, it’s still ridiculous….but hilarious!

  10. Amanda Balzer says:

    I’m sure you were all thinking this, but it seems “Twitter as hammer” should be the new black swan.

  11. A bit late, but Wagner’s comment on these new forms of technology not replacing older forms is a good one. I’ll go one further, though: Twitter and blogs may not replace journalism, but they are altering the way we think about the act of journalism. Is journalism going to continue being an opaque activity? Or will journalists be forced to expose the process? I.e., why was this narrative chosen over that narrative? Why did I interview this source, but not that one? Which quotes did I use, and which did I not? I like the idea of a Wiki-like journalism, where behind every story lies a commentary/debate/information page (or, better yet, within the story). Transparency is bliss, I say.

    In terms of Web 2 technologies’ place in upsetting the balance, I do think that the soon-to-be unveiled Google Wave will be a game changer. The technology combines the best of wiki, blog, and Tweet into one, allowing anyone to be a participant in reporting and transmitting the news, information, or any other goodness (or drivel) they see fit. I’d recommend checking it out at

  12. Mike Wagner says:

    I think that increased transparency would be valuable. The Daily Show did a nice job ripping CNN tonight for all the ireport crap they do. I’d much rather have them explain the process of what they’ve done than tell me what, as Jon Stewart pointed out, “bugsack” thinkgs about Sotomayor. As such, I am skeptical of empowering everyone to be a reporter. Let’s empower everyone to be a source.

    Although…it isn’t like the ireporters are that much worse than what is on CNN.

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