Attention is the ignition of the human mind – It all starts from there. It is a fundamental element to awareness and consciousness while decisively being a core factor to memory and learning. Let’s put it this way – if you are not giving attention to something, you ain’t going to do much with it or about it. So, yes, attention is key.
“Attention is a focal point which expands outwards and inwards into awareness”
When you think, learn, focus, problem solve or do any mental stuff, you must first put your attention somewhere and the more attention you put, the easier it is. Attentiveness is not the same thing as alertness or awareness. Alertness is a predisposition to pick up signals from your environment while awareness is what happens when we put our attention somewhere. Attention is a focal point which expands outwards and inwards into awareness. When you look at a classroom during a lecture you can see a whole spectrum of attentiveness at play – from the highly attentive (which perhaps wanes after 20 to thirty minutes) to complete non-attentiveness or distraction.
“Lack of attention is a very common trait encoded in our collective gene pool”
During the last decade or so, clinical Psychology and education have given a lot of importance to ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – which statistics show to be affecting 39 million people as of 2013 (World Health Organization). In short, lack of attention is a very common trait encoded in our collective gene pool and is probably an effect of changing lifestyles during the last hundred years – although this is just my guess and haven’t seen any research papers about this yet.
“We are time-sharing our attention among a massive amount of things…”
What does it all mean? Well basically we are a distracted bunch! Too many stimuli, fast-paced lifestyles and an overload of information has blasted our attention into too many fragments. We are time-sharing our attention among a massive amount of things – so we have dispersed our focus and shortened our attention time span. We are attention grabbers worn on the inside out!
“School, or rather education, should start understanding better the dynamics behind attention in this generation…”
What’s the remedy Doc? To be frank and without sounding too negative, I don’t see anything that will help our attention problem in the short to mid term future. I mean the world is just fabricating more and more attention grabbers which doesn’t help much. Main stream education needs a serious overhaul as it is doing nothing to improve the situation but rather making it worse. But it should start from there in my opinion. School, or rather education, should start understanding better the dynamics behind attention in this generation and how it is affected by the changing world we live in. More importantly it should start delivering educational content and media that stimulate the attention of the individual rather than forcing it to a one size-fits-all curriculum. Let’s face it, modern day distractions apart, most students have short attention spans at school because it’s sometimes to most of the time boring. Individuals are interested or at least have no repulsion to certain subjects but many others are in general a waste of time.
“I would start any reform from the bottom up and that means understanding how the mind learns, thinks and applying that to systems of learning”
I know this is a broad generalisation and when it comes to education, it always is. I know there are many schools who are starting to embrace new pedagogies and educational philosophies and there are highly skilled trainers, teachers, counsellors and psychologists who are doing a fantastic job at directing certain education systems towards a reform. Yet if I had to give my two cents, I would start any reform from the bottom up and that means understanding how the mind learns, thinks and applying that to systems of learning. In other words we have to pay attention to attention.