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Information—What Matters? Book Excerpt #5

Thursday, January 4th, 2018

Dear Readers,

Happy New Year!

We are continuing with posting excerpts from the new book we are working on, Who’s Raising Our Kids? Nurturing Human Values in a Digital World (©2017). We have parent and teacher presentations on this topic, as well as student workshops. Contact us for more information!

And stay tuned for some exciting new interactive web content coming soon!

Excerpt #5:

Information: Google It!

Today we hold in our hands more information than has ever been available to anyone since the beginning of time. There is always something new to learn and it’s available to all of us, all the time. Wikipedia with its vast storehouse of knowledge, free online courses at MIT, newspapers from around the world offering multiple perspectives and insights, chat rooms, and blogs, the potential for discovery and advancement feels limitless. No one wants to return to a time when information was reserved for the elite, and it took hours to research something that was old before you read it. Like the immigrant family, we can embrace the wonders of this new cyber world while also examining how it influences our children’s understanding of what is important and real. We can investigate this new world with them and help them develop strategies to filter out the fabrications from the truth.

Pre-internet, learning how to access information was an essential part of education. How to use a dictionary, how the Dewey Decimal system works, how to find the most updated research among a limited number of recognized journals—these were the keys to exploring the world of knowledge. Accessing information took effort and involved a trip to the library and hours in the stacks. No more. Now we can sit at home and locate what we need in minutes, even seconds.

Today we need new skills to face a different kind of challenge. Media outlets, bloggers, Twitter, YouTube offer a relentless barrage of information, news, gossip, insights, and videos. How do we make sense of it all? We need a way to figure out what matters and what is true.

What Matters?

Taylor Swift has a new boyfriend! There’s been an earthquake in China! You have a new snapchat from a friend and three texts from your mom! Look! No look here! Breaking news!

Information streams past us every minute of every day; each trending hashtag screams for attention with equal urgency. Notifications interrupt our focus and our ability to be where we are in time and space. Those bings and bells grab our attention and trigger a subtle but significant dopamine rush. Like Pavlov’s dogs, our brains are being shaped by the intermittent positive reinforcement we receive when we accept the interruption. We are all seduced by this call for our attention.

As parents and educators, we must begin to analyze how this constant state of anticipation and distraction keeps us from the rich experience of the present moment. Our children have a lot to contribute to this conversation. How do we figure out what is really important? What is worth our time? Because something is “trending,” does that mean it’s relevant or important to our lives? Does anything deserve our undivided attention? If so, what? And when? These are the questions we need to be discussing as a family.

As our children grow, they will begin to decide what is worth their time and attention.  We can help make that decision a conscious one, based on what they value, and we can model that behavior. In Chapter Five we develop a family plan for internet use. For now, take stock of the price you and your children pay for being constantly plugged-in. What kinds of activities or times of the day deserve to be distraction-free?

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