New report outlines power of disconnecting in knowledge economy

Jessie MannistoThe American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) recommends that you improve your information diet. In a new report, Restoring Contemplation: How Disconnecting Bolsters the Knowledge Economy, author Jessie L. Mannisto outlines future directions for libraries and other social institutions to improve our capacity for thoughtful endeavor. These changes, the report argues, are essential for success in a globally competitive economy and a higher quality of life.

Mannisto, an OITP Research Associate and recent Google Policy Fellow, observes a growing imbalance between the information gathering pursuits of web surfing, social media, email and text messages and more contemplative information processing and synthesis. Creating a more balanced and healthy diet, whether it concerns food or information, demands concerted attention.

“We enjoy the wondrous benefits of instant networked communication,” said Bonnie Tijerina, Chair of ALA’s OITP Advisory Committee. “However, these new technologies skew us towards a quick, reactive communications style—sometimes good, but often not.”

Drawing from a growing body of research on the neural consequences of hyperconnectivity,

Restoring Contemplationrecommends that public and private funders support programs to increase awareness, education, and services for the general public, both in libraries and throughout society. Options for libraries might include creating a contemplative resource center, supporting and reinforcing student reflection as part of the school day, or using books and exhibits to enable and encourage discussion of our technological habits.

“Deep thought needs a champion,” said OITP Director Alan Inouye, “and libraries have a long and respected history of promoting contemplation. For example, libraries encourage reading through book lending and children’s storytelling, and we support students working on their term papers. In the digital age, programming to promote thinking is critical and deserves even greater emphasis.”

Mannisto encourages us to envision a National Commission on Cognition in the Digital Age that draws on the expertise of psychologists, sociologists, technology developers, network engineers and others. This commission could determine areas for additional research and coordinate large-scale initiatives to address real problems facing information users—as well as the larger knowledge economy.

“To discuss the downside of hyperconnection is not to call for Luddite rebellion. Such regression would be neither possible nor desirable,” Mannisto concludes. “Our ultimate goal will be not to rebel against the Information Age, but to thrive in it.”

Restoring Contemplationis the second in a series of short publications called OITP Perspectives, which complement OITP Policy Briefs. The new series provides an outlet for topics that are more specialized than those covered by policy briefs, as well as allowing more rapid response to current issues. More OITP publications are available on the ALA website.

Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.

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