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SuperSite Blog Daily Update: November 21, 2010

Good morning.

I read The New York Times on the Kindle every Sunday morning, and as is often the case, there were some interesting articles I'd like to share. This time around, there are three, and they're all related, though they all appeared in different sections of the paper for some reason. The theme here is whether increased computer usage in young children is leading to attention span problems. There seems to be some debate about this, but as the parent of young children--both of whom have netbooks and zero attention span--it's something I'm naturally concerned about.

Anyway, assuming you have the attention span to actually read these articles (sorry, just a joke), they are:

Growing Up Digital, Wired for Distraction

Students have always faced distractions and time-wasters. But computers and cellphones, and the constant stream of stimuli they offer, pose a profound new challenge to focusing and learning. Researchers say the lure of these technologies, while it affects adults too, is particularly powerful for young people. The risk, they say, is that developing brains can become more easily habituated than adult brains to constantly switching tasks — and less able to sustain attention.

Achieving a Healthful Digital Diet

Think of the Internet and other digital technology as food. Limit the intake of empty digital calories, and do not consume too much over all. That is the advice of experts who study children’s use of media and who have some tips for parents and children on how to use technology in more healthful ways.

And then, of course, the contrarian view (The NYT can't ever seem to take a stand on anything):

The Attention-Span Myth

Everyone has an attention span. It can be short or long. Long is good. Good scholars, good citizens and good children have long attention spans. Attention spans used to be robust; now they are stunted. Technology--MTV, the Internet, the iPhone--shriveled them ... At the same time, there is a pro-technology view of attention spans--rarer, but no less confident. Science writers like Jonah Lehrer have pointed to studies that seem to demonstrate perfectly respectable attention spans in gamers and Web users.


And while I'm on the subject of the NYT--Sundays are such an enjoyable, Pogue-free day at the paper--there was also an interesting article about digital notebooks, though I was surprised (no, not really) to see that the author didn't mention Microsoft OneNote at all. Still, the idea of being able to take and access notes from any device you happen to have at the time is a very good one, and is quite useful if you have this need.

I have a good friend who swears by Evernote, and pays for the premium version. In fact, he routinely seems confused that I don't use it, and often brings it up unasked-for. I did use OneNote for years, but ultimately dropped it because I like being able to search for and easily find my notes and articles (in Word form) on my home server, and having the notes in OneNote made them unsearchable in that way, but also segregated my notes into two different places. This is less of a concern now, given OneNote's ties to online services (SharePoint and SkyDrive) and Windows Phone. But it's hard to change well-established habits.

The other solution mentioned in this article is Simplenote. I'd never heard of it, but my guess is that the trendy young authors at the NYT these days are more interested in the latest iOS-compatible flash in the pan than in established players like OneNote. This is somewhat understandable, if depressing. But ultimately, I think it makes sense for anyone to choose the solution that best fits their needs, and if those needs include iPhone, iPad, and MacBook compatibility, this might be a decent fit. One issue with OneNote, of course, is that it does not work on those machines. This is something Microsoft needs to address, and it's the reason, I bet, the NYT just ignored this mature and otherwise capable solution and picked something that looks like it was designed by two kids in their parent's basement instead. (Evernote looks--and is--far more polished.)

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