Saturday, November 2, 2013

Sound Bites

Instant information, instant gratification, pervasive electronic resources -- they all lead to life lived in sound bites.  Have you ever noticed that people only listen long enough to hear what they want to hear?  It happens in one-on-one personal communication, it happens when an e-mail contains more than one topic, it happens in news stories and it happens when I post something on Facebook or on this blog.  The focus of attention only lasts until a previously held belief is either confirmed or challenged.  That fact becomes obvious in the comments.

Politicians and news commentators are well aware of this.  They speak in sound bites.  They want brief phrases that are complete thoughts -- self-contained.  Stringing together a cohesive chain of reasoning in order to build a complete thought is ineffective because attention spans are short.

Why do we have such a short attention span?  I think it is because the American culture is one of instant reward/instant gratification.  Very few know how to work in a sustained manner to achieve a goal anymore.  Is it because everything we could ever want is at our fingertips for the asking?

I don't have an answer.  I suspect that our educational system is partly to blame.  After all, most tests are True/False or Select the correct answer.  Essay answers are almost unheard of because, I would guess, it requires a lot more work on the part of the teacher and is more subjective in nature.  Instant answers are the norm.  Because the material will be tested as instant answers it is often taught in sound bites.  Have you ever heard a teacher say, "You may see this again?"  It is a clue that the sound bite you last heard will probably be on the exam.

Do we not teach reasoning skills because of laziness?  I'm sure if any educators read this they will take exception to my comments.  In reality, I am just wondering -- speculating.  I don't know the answer.  But, I will admit it is difficult to stay with this train of thought for very long.

Who do you think will win the big football game today?

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