[…] If we want to change our institutions, we have to believe that it is the institutional structures that are the problem, not the new conditions of life that institutions should be supporting. That is, if we believe that technology is making us dumb, distracted, shallow, and lonely—as some have said—then we should be insisting that school stay exactly as stultifying, bubble-tested, standardized, and hierarchical as it is now. By contrast, if we realize that we are in the midst of a monumental historical change and one reason we feel distracted and disjointed is because there is a mismatch between the educational institutions that help to form us and the changed world in which we live, then there is motivation to change our institutions to help us in this new world.
So attention is key. I side with those neuroscientists who argue the brain doesn’t know how to “monotask.” Multitasking is a way of life, and disruption is what saves us from our own attention blindness. Right now, we are often blind to how much how world has changed and how essential it is to change our institutions to support that change.
And, I believe, the institutions involved are not just schools, but work. We need to change the world of work to reflect and support the way our minds actually work, instead of attempting to force ourselves into some ideological mindset. A mindset where our attention must be focused at every second, like a laser, working on the next task in our work queue. However, cognitive science shows that this is folklore — or religious doctrine — rather than an appraisal of how we actually operate cognitively. This is the war on flow I have been writing about for years.
This is not dissimilar to the obsession in Western culture with individuality and autonomy, which is such a strong bias that people are unwilling to accept how much of our cognition is social, and that many of the behaviors we consider individual are in fact group phenomena.