Teenagers and continuous partial attention....

Via my colleague Brian Kelly’s post, I read Catherine O’Brien’s How the Google generation thinks differently on the Times Online site (Brian gets cited offering advice on parenting in a digital age!).

I enjoyed the article, but one sentence in the middle caused me to reminisce about my own childhood, and my approach to ‘doing’ homework:

The experience with which my generation grew up, of absorbing oneself in a single book and allowing its themes to meander into the mind before forming considered judgments, is in danger of being eclipsed by the new, digital world order.

Now I judge myself to be more or less of the same generation as Catherine, but I have a quite different memory of doing homework. As I recall, I spent hours in my bedroom, with a text book or two for sure, but also with Radio Victory playing fairly continuously on my clock-radio. At pre-arranged times I would use my pocket torch to send messages in Morse code to the kid across the other side of the alley-way which ran behind my house. Here’s a sample:

  • …. .. … / .– — ..- .-.. -.. / -… . / … — / – ..- -.-. …. / . .- … .…-. / .. ..-. / .– . / …. .- -.. / … — – . / -.- .. -. -.. / — ..-. / .–. — -.-. -.- . - / -.…..- .. -.-. . / ..-. — .-. / … . -. -.. .. -. –. / … …. — .-. - / - . -..- - / – . … … .- –….. / - — / . .- -.-. …. / — - ……-. / .. -. / .–. .-.. .- .. -. / . -. –. .-.. .. … ….

If you feel so inclined, you can translate this using this nifty Morse code translator.

My point is, of course, that continuous partial attention is not a generational phenomenon so much as it is related to age.

And furthermore, while the technology may be different, but thirty years ago I had a remote social network (with two nodes - I didn’t have many friends then, for some reason) which was maintained with a recognised, international standard deployed over a binary protocol using readily-available, commodity hardware.



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