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Digital: Pause.
August 13th, 2009 by Lex


I have resurrected a project done at the Center for Educational Technology at Middlebury College for more modern browsers and screens. See if you have what it takes to PAUSE.

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The mission statement is more relevant now than before. This project was completed before Youtube and Twitter were founded, which shortened our collective attention spans to a paltry 20 seconds. A recent Slate article takes on the fallacy of the immediate small reward:

Ever find yourself sitting down at the computer just for a second to find out what other movie you saw that actress in, only to look up and realize the search has led to an hour of Googling? Thank dopamine. Our internal sense of time is believed to be controlled by the dopamine system. People with hyperactivity disorder have a shortage of dopamine in their brains, which a recent study suggests may be at the root of the problem. For them even small stretches of time seem to drag. An article by Nicholas Carr in the Atlantic last year, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” speculates that our constant Internet scrolling is remodeling our brains to make it nearly impossible for us to give sustained attention to a long piece of writing. Like the lab rats, we keep hitting “enter” to get our next fix.

Give it a rest, give it some pause.

Ludic New Media
January 16th, 2009 by Lex


How do we read and consume media online? This Slate article makes a strong point regarding our fickleness as an audience. Our attentions are minute, skimming text for links and names rather than thoroughly understanding the information. We are looking for snacks, nuggets, bits. We jump from paragraph to video to conversation. Trap us!

This is also true for other types of content. People routinely only watch the first 60 seconds of web video, and episodes/virals get shorter and shorter. Unless we are primed to consume something like a full episode or movie, we simply nibble along.

Slate brings up an interesting aside: a 1988 study about Lucid Reading, or reading for pleasure. To quote the paper’s conclusion:

The processes of reading gratification begin with the subjectively effortless extraction of meaning from the printed page (Study I), the rewards of which appear to be augmented by flexible control of reading pace (Study 2). The harsh judgments elite criticism has made of pleasure reading interact with text difficulty and reader preferences to determine the reader’s selection of a ludic vehicle (Study 3). Fluctuating physiological arousal (Study 4) and cognitive consciousness-change mechanisms (Study 5) combine to confer on the skilled reader the sovereignty of the reading experience through which, with striking economy of means and
precision of outcome, readers transform fear to power, gloom to delight, and agitation to tranquillity.

A deliberate slowing-down of the process and a focused reading approach lead to a meditative result. A ludic consumption need not be limited to reading however. This was the driving idea behind Sokolin’s 2004 project Pause. If we sit down and resign ourselves to taking enjoying something, to really knowing it, there is a tangible benefit to slowing down.

This idea is eloquently explored by Carl Honore in his book “In Praise of Slowness”, and this video for the TED Conference.

However, the verdict is that we see the web and technology as junkfood. Change must come within, which is unlikely. The alternative is to encounter (or to create) some new media experience, artpiece, or text, that is so compelling it stops in our tracks.