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This past week I spent five days (and four uncomfortable nights) on a camping trip with almost 50 seventh graders. While the camping trip may not have been great for my sleep, it was the perfect opportunity to get away from my laptop and reflect on my information diet. When I wasn’t encouraging students to push themselves in the Hong Kong outdoors, I read two books that raise gigantic warning flags about what the expanded role of the internet is doing to our minds: The Shallows by Nicholas Carr and The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser. (If I have time I’ll write up a detailed review of these books; they were extremely thought provoking!)

tunglung1Here is my four step plan to detox my mind:

1) Get offline to foster deep thinking

I’ve always been in the habit of reading longer articles offline, either by printing them or using a reader program such as Instapaper. I find it difficult to stay focused on an any internet connected device when in the back of my brain I know that with just one click I can be somewhere else. Nicholas Carr cites a study about how the mere presence of hyperlinks in a text can actually reduce memory retention! (2010, p. 123)

So I will make sure to read the op-ed page of the local paper at least once a week. And our school librarian sends us an educational newsletter called the “Marshall Memo”, so I will print that off and read it regularly.

2) Take Steps to Curb Online Faffery

I love a good faff (British English for ineffectual activity). There’s no better way to spend a sunny weekend morning than in the back garden with my iPad and a coffee. But Facebook and Google make money when I click on their ads, so they design their algorithms to keep me faffing away. I constantly have to fight against this becoming a daily habit. How many prep periods have disappeared down the black hole of Facebook?

So I took the rather drastic step of deleting Facebook from my iPhone. And hilariously (ominiously?) proving my point about how Facebook wants to keep me online, after just two days of not logging in to my account I received this email:Screen Shot 2014-04-13 at 4.10.14 PM

3) Explore More Online Sources

In steps one and two, I outlined ways to get rid of internet “junk food”. But how can I actively add more sources of online information to provide a balance to my information diet?

I used to go to the Christian Science Monitor for a refreshing take on world events. I’m not sure if this publication is still up to the same high standards, as it appears from a glance at their website that they have to display advertisements prominently to survive. I’ll give it another try.

I have a long commute every day (about 90 minutes each way), so I will get back in the habit of listening to NPR podcasts such as Fresh Air. They also have an education section, so I will add that to my short list of podcasts.

Lastly, I want to join in more of the weekly chats that happen on Twitter. Taking an active role in the participatory culture of the internet, as Henry Jenkins says, will expose me to more information that I wouldn’t normally come across.

4) Get It Done

The best plan in the world is no good if you don’t follow through on it, so the final piece to this information diet “detox” is a renewed commitment to Getting Things Done. In particular I need to spend some time reviewing my weekly twitter favorites and web clippings, since that has always been my weakest step in the process.

References

Carr, N. G. (2010). The shallows: What the Internet is doing to our brains. New York: W.W. Norton.

DMLResearchHub. (2011, August 04). Media scholar Henry Jenkins on participatory culture and civic engagement. Retrieved April 13, 2014, from http://youtu.be/ZgZ4ph3dSmY

Pariser, E. (2011). The filter bubble: What the Internet is hiding from you. New York: Penguin Press.

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