When contemplating if the internet is really a productivity tool, the first thing that comes to mind is the world of education prior to the advent of computers and the internet. Prior to computers and the internet, knowledge was primarily contained in book form or in the minds of teachers through their education and experience. Students were exposed to limited sources of information based on the diversity of their school libraries and the teachers they had in their environment. Deciphering and interpreting information was done using specific methods that were taught and there were not many choices in how students work was to be done. I see in my mind, a student sitting at table using a pencil and a paper to write their interpretations of what is written in books that are sprawled around his workspace.
Today, students do not even consider using books when trying to kind information for an assignment. When asking my students to find some information, their first instinct is to retrieve their smartphones or a computer and start a search using a service like Google. After exploring a few sites related to the topic and starting to grasp the idea of the concept, it’s time to open some type of productivity application like Google Docs or Microsoft Word and start writing. (In some cases, copying and pasting directly from a website.) In the midst of this workflow, the attention of a student is immediately being pulled in a myriad of different directions by online advertisers, clever attention-grabbing headlines and carefully constructed media architectures.
In the TED Talk performed by Tristan Harris, the methods used by large internet companies to get and retain the attention of internet users are exposed. As time advances, the fight for attention is becoming increasingly competitive and methods are becoming increasingly sophisticated. So be clear, these internet-based companies aren’t vying only for the attention of students, they are vying for the attention of everyone. From my personal experience, they seem to be winning when looking at my iPhone usage statistics from the past week.
As we explored the pros and the cons of productivity sweets in the group presentation this past week, I came to the realization that in many cases, productivity is associated with computers. We cannot deny that computers have the ability to make many tasks related to ‘knowledge work’ more efficient. I still remember writing draft after draft of an assignment by hand before committing to taking out the pen and paper and constructing the final draft of my work to be handed in to the teacher. Today, using a computerized word processor, more time can be devoted to style and content rather than physically writing and formatting assignments. Imagine the time saved when using modern spreadsheets with integrated formulas as opposed to good old tabulation sheets and a manual calculator. Group work has gotten much more effective with the advent of e-mail, video conferencing and tools like Google docs.
With all the advantages of productivity tools associated to the internet and computers, it’s easy to assume that we can always “do more with less” as mentioned in the suggested reading: The state of productivity suites in the workpklace. However, in the mist of all the distractions that are forwarded by our connected world, we must stay vigilant in reminding ourselves that productivity don’t always have to be associated with computers and the internet. The good old “hipster pda” can be a very effective tool to stay organized in everyday tasks.
As David Allen extols in his book: Getting Things Done, productivity is more associated to a mindset and a philosophy than the availability of productivity tools. All the tools in the world are useless unless they are properly used and effectively integrated into the various workflows that compose our “working” environments. Certain tools like DF Tube and uBlock Origin can provide a certain amount of relief to the distractions of internet life, but I’m of the opinion that good digital citizenship and education are the key to reducing the influence of internet advertising and less than honest headlines on the lives of the future generation.
Our attention is very valuable and companies like Google make profit by exploiting it. Specifically, in the case of Google, their productivity tools are a fantastic hook into the ecosystem, once they have your attention, all of their auxiliary services can now compete for time. Being conscious of this situation is the first step towards helping people focus and be truly productive.