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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