After reading The Thinking Life: How to Survive in the Age of Distraction (Forni, Pier; St. Martin’s Press, 2011), I started thinking about the impact of technology on both my personal and working life. Like many people today I am seldom far from my computer, email or Droid. Even while reading for relaxation, I have a computer at hand to look things up, surf, and quickly respond to emails coming in. Soon it became apparent to me that that this experience was becoming more and more prevalent in our community, and it has evolved into a wider community discussion here at the Rochester Hills (Mich.) Public Library (RHPL).
I started out by writing my “From the Director” column in our library newsletter on Forni’s book. This was followed a book discussion of the New York Times bestseller Hamlet’s Blackberry: A Practical Philosophy for Building a Good Life in the Digital Age by William Powers. The third piece of the puzzle came on March 29th when American Library Association (ALA) Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) Research Associate Jessie L. Mannisto spoke at my library about her newly-released report Restoring Contemplation: How Disconnecting Bolsters the Knowledge Economy, released as OITP Perspectives No. 2.
Drawing on research that she began last summer as ALA’s 2011 Google Policy Fellow, Jessie examined the effects of ever-present technology and connectivity that most of us experience, in search of possible solutions for those who are overwhelmed by it. Modern technology brings many helpful, effective, and meaningful connections into our lives, but over-connection and the constant flood of information can be distracting and counterproductive.
Program attendees learned about research that indicates we are less productive than we think. “Multitasking is a big issue these days,” said Mannisto. “If you try to do too many things, you bump into a limit that’s built into your brain — it makes you more error-prone.” Balance is the key to reaping the benefits of technology while maintaining control over our lives. “Something that is helpful to ask is ‘why are you connected’? Each of us must decide the rules for our own information diet,” she said. Mannisto explained that a balanced information diet will allow for disconnected space while promoting information literacy and the capacity for analytical thought. She feels libraries can play an even more valuable role in promoting information literacy and helping customers discern gathering and processing information in the most effective ways.
RHPL librarian Sheila Konen commented that “the audience was definitely middle aged. It made us wonder if you needed to reach a certain level of maturity to appreciate the need for contemplation.”
I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop multi-tasking, but I find it reassuring that I’m not alone in my frustration and occasional desire to go into digital detox and go on a cruise.
Christine Lind Hage
Director, Rochester Hills Public Library
Chair, ALA Joint Selection Committee on Cutting-edge Services