Shirky is a professor of media studies at New York University, holding a joint appointment as an arts professor at NYU’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program in the Tisch School of the Arts, and as a Distinguished Writer in Residence in the journalism institute. He is a leading voice on the effect has had on society — and vice versa — and has been writing extensively about the Internet for nearly a decade.


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Very interesting argument from Clay Shirky on why devices should be turned off during his .

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  1. Thanks for sharing this, Martin. Interesting point and one I made about a study at a University in Philadelphia at an early WoL when debating social media use with Clive Shepherd and Nick Shackleton.

    I slightly disagree with Shirky’s use of the term multi-tasking even though this is semantics – he pretty much agrees with my take on this which is that no one can multi-task in the true sense – i.e. do two things at once. On fact we can rapidly task switch – flicking our attention back and forth. As Shirky says, this stops us concentrating on one thing (by definition) but more importantly interrupts deep concentration when we’re trying to master new information or deal with new concepts, processes or behaviours.

    It is ironic that Shirky has come out in favour of what some of us knew all along. He has been quoted back at me in the past when I have asked people to put away their devices during sessions.

    • Thanks for your comment, Robin. It seems to me that this reflects the ongoing – and unchartered – territory that we are now in. Shirky made a good point around the role of the lecturer if he/she insists on devices being switched off. What will their role be in delivering content? From my experience of live tweeting conferences I think I engage more with what is going on than passive consumers of the content. If you are focused only on what is being said, then tweeting and interacting around that can help embed it – that’s my experience.

    • Yes, I think that is a very good point. The design is very targeted and disruptive to us when we are trying to concentrate/reflect/think deeply. I also think we need to create ‘off’ time for the reasons he and you outline. We need to rest our brains now we are over-stimulating them pretty much all of the time!

  2. Martin, I agree with you in principle – after all, in some ways you are simply using a different tool for note taking. I guess the challenge (perhaps only for some) is – as Shirky notes – that the current social web is designed to distract. There is a constant stream of things shouting for our attention.

    When I used to talk about designing engaging eLearning I used to do a routine about Harry – at the time, the books were being released in a blaze of media attention and the films were similarly big news events. My comment then was that eLearning content was competing with the Sorting Hats exercise on because the same road led to both destinations. I hadn’t been prescient enough to predict the growth of Facebook, twitter, snapchat and the likes. I was using one somewhat diverting piece of online interactivity which although not aimed at the same audience was still a potential distractor. Now there are so many more online distractions complete with alerts and notifications. These are highly personalised and highly targeted, often led by the power of advertising.

    I agree with Shirky, therefore, that when I’m competing with Apple and Google and others who have questionable tax regimes, the playing field is far from level.

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