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When you need to go deep, don't let your devices be a distraction

Esther J. Cepeda on

In their discussion of the pros and cons of making technology available to 21st-century students, the researchers cited this little-discussed fact: "In K-12 schools, where students do not typically take lecture notes, a growing body of research has found no positive impact [on student achievement] of expanded computer or internet access."

They strain to underscore that they "do not claim that all computer use in the classroom is harmful. Exercises where computers or tablets are deliberately used may, in fact, improve student performance. Rather, our results relate to classes where using computers or tablets for note-taking is optional."

In other words, unless you are being meticulous in the specific use of a tool that can be used for learning, you risk having the tool become a distraction.

It's plainly easier and faster to take dictation on a laptop -- and check your social media feeds while there's a lull -- than to concentrate fully on information that is being presented and then synthesize a summary in your own words via paper and pen.

But who cares how efficient an action is when it's not helping you achieve your goals?

It is possible that the difficulties of our modern lives -- and the politics, rancor and fake Instagram perfection that feed our daily media diets -- are soothed by the dopamine hit that our brains get from checking to see if new messages or crazy headlines have arrived.

But though our electronic companions may ease us through chaotic lives, they also distract us from the difficult tasks at hand, many of which are well worth the opportunity cost of one more quick check of Twitter or a newsfeed.

Digital addicts, take heart: You don't need to quit the internet to benefit greatly from more time away from your devices. Just try it for a few minutes a day and see how it goes. In fact, as soon as you finish reading this column, treat yourself to some silence.

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Esther Cepeda's email address is estherjcepeda@washpost.com.

(c) 2017, Washington Post Writers Group

 

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