Thursday, March 13, 2014

Contemplative Computing

Contemplative Computing may sound like an oxymoron,” says Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, a futurist and scholar at Stanford University, “but it’s really quite simple. It’s about how to use information technologies and social media so they’re not endlessly distracting and demanding, but instead help us be more mindful, focused and creative.” In his book The Distraction Addiction he elaborates upon his ideas further, but in this post I will explore my own contemplative computing.

One of the first steps is metacognition. Rosen, in iDisorder, stated, “Metacognition is defined as being aware of your own mental processes and understanding your brain and you handle incoming information.” This rings a bell because it is how I taught reading comprehension to 7th and 8th graders at The Fenn School. I asked them, “How do you read? What do you think about when you read? Do you make personal connections? Do you relate it to what you’ve read in the past? When are you fully engaged in your reading, and when are you distracted? So in essence how does your brain work when you read?” Thus, like metacognition in reading, one can ask oneself how one’s brain works when using technology.  With these observations, we may begin to be able to make changes so that we are more focused and productive with fewer distractions.

It may take some time to identify the patterns, and they may differ according to the time of day, the task, and the type of digital device.

Today, I finished a section of my writing, and I realized that the font was too small, and I needed to make it larger. That movement from writing to formatting drew my attention to the other windows open on my computer. I felt the restlessness in my body as I wondered if anyone had viewed my blog since I tenuously posted it on Facebook yesterday. I realized it was a pretty big step to post my blog, opening myself up to compliment or criticism. I’ve written for years, but rarely posted anything I wrote. My young adult novel is still in manuscript form, and though I’ve sent it to several friends, I’ve never shared it via social media. There was some anxiety in my stomach as I made the decision not to check. I resisted the urge to minimize my word screen to log into my blogger site, and I then maximized my word screen, so as not to be tempted by other open windows on the Internet.

What do you notice about your brain when you work on a task? Do you ever find yourself instinctively, without awareness, opening another window to check email or look something up? Do you find your fingers move from your keyboard to your phone, just to glance at it quickly before realizing what you are doing? I do, and this awareness is definitely needed before any changes can be made, but I also need to ask myself, “Do you know why you want to make a change?” My answer today is yes. I’d like to be more productive, more focused, with greater metacognition. It's going to be a process, or better yet a practice, just like yoga and meditation. 

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