"If we're there, where aren't we?" -- PBS looks at life online

Former BB guestblogger Douglas Rushkoff and PBS produccer Rachel Dretzin have created a documentary called Digital Nation. PBS has added some learning resources along with the standard mini-movies with titles like "Getting Ready for Robots." Viewable Feb. 1 online, Feb. 2 on Frontline at 9 pm.
doug.jpgDretzin and Rushkoff begin on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, home to some of the most technologically savvy students in the world. Many of these "digital natives," who have hardly known a world in which they weren't connected 24/7, confess to having increasingly limited attention spans that make it difficult for them to read books or learn in conventional ways. "Honestly, I can't sit somewhere for two hours straight and focus on anything," says a student named Alex. "Maybe it's some technology dependence I've developed over the course of the years, but at this point I don't think I can go back to just focusing on one thing."


  1. As someone who just spent several hours straight playing Mass Effect 2 (snow day!), I’m skeptical of this claim that tech and the modern barrage of information makes it impossible for people to pay attention to anything. When I played WoW, I remember 12-year-olds in hours-long raids, and they didn’t seem to be freaking out into piles of ADHDness.

    I might suspect that people are more likely to get bored than they used to be, but my guess would be that if something held their interest, they could pay attention to it for extended periods.

  2. aelfscine, ADHD is characterized by not only difficulty maintaining attention on certain tasks, but also by great difficulty shifting attention from tasks that are enjoyable.

    I’m with you that technology and media do not cause ADHD. There was a movement in the US and UK that tried to blame ADHD on television, and on Western culture in general, but that theory has been fairly well argued against.

    I’d be tempted to suggest that perhaps those with ADHD are attracted to certain aspects of online media or what-have-you (didn’t RTFA yet).

  3. Well, I’ll be watching Lost on Feb. 2nd, but this show looks interesting. And I love you, Patrick Stewart! “Make it so, Number One!”

  4. Although I can definitely see how ADHD might confer an advantage when dealing with extremely large amounts of information and a limited time span, as it allows one to flit from subject to subject until one of interest catches and holds on tight to your attention. If that is the case, then technology and media would encourage the traits that are usually grouped and defined as ADHD, but I suppose that’s what someone might mean by one “causing” the other.

    1. I think youre a little ahead of yourself and may be surprised how many people do in fact watch PBS, on the TV.

  5. Every minute I’m here at BB is another minute I’m not on the street corner, hawking smuggled lizards out of my pants to strangers in order to fund a raging crack addiction.

    I mean, it’s unlikely, but it’s also technically true.


  6. Oh and the ability to organize information is the key here. The followers of Linnaeus will thrive here. As I said earlier Frontline is in the category of high quality information.

    Organizing information. Its the new “plastic”.

  7. People who grow up doing something other than reading books find it hard to read books. Hmm.

    Is this supposed to be different than the kids who grew up doing other non-reading things, and then find it hard to read books?

    1. Well, maybe. It will be interesting to see, as the “gamers” get older, if their interest wanes as it inevitably did with the *old* form of masturbation. The books will be there waiting.

  8. Lucky for all us Lost fans the video of the show will be posted to the Frontline web site after airing. I know this because myself, my boss and our team were interviewed for the part on remote collaboration in business. (we do regular meeting in virtual spaces behind our firewall). If the videos on the Digital Nation web site are any indication, show will be fascinating. Check out some of the stories on the about using virtual world to treat post traumatic stress disorder.

  9. Twitter is not about summing up life in 140 characters. I hate when people misconstrue its purpose like this. If you follow people that mirror your own interests it can be a great way to discover original content and connect with a broader audience.

  10. “People who grow up doing something other than reading books find it hard to read books. Hmm.

    Is this supposed to be different than the kids who grew up doing other non-reading things, and then find it hard to read books?”

    Great point, Daemon- I don’t see any difference between this and some highschool/college/adult jock telling me “books are boring”. It’s called “narrow virtuosity”; I just Googled it, so the information is online for any “genius” who’d like to check it out.

  11. Here’s an alternate thought. People’s passions tend to wane if they aren’t rewarded for having them somehow. Now that this is an era of documentation, are many more people receiving recognition for adhering to their passions?

  12. I grew up reading books, and one of my great joys is still settling in for an afternoon’s reading with a book I’ve been waiting to sink my teeth into. OTOH, I also can spend hours at a time playing Star Trek Online, creating a new graphic design for a t-shirt (either by hand or on a computer), gardening, even doing housework, which I largely despise. Concentration or multitasking can be learned, if the incentive is there.

  13. Just because it’s such a great quote:

    “I don’t tweet. I’ve never twittered. And … it’s not that I’m resisting it, but I see no reason to have it in my life. To reduce life to how many … (off-camera: “a hundred and forty”) … hundred and forty just seems to me to be a little bit simplistic. But maybe I like complexity, and abstraction too much. But on the other hand, I just handed someone my beautiful iPhone which I never have out of my hand, and that I do everything with, and has become an extension of who I am. I travel with my laptop everywhere. E-mails are absolutely essential in my life, and for the most part I love e-mailing because I don’t like talking on the telephone! And I don’t like writing letters! And, so, the form of e-mails is great. I love the Internet. I’m learning more and more how to use it, and how to access information, and the fact that I can find out what the weather is like in Los Angeles in 15 seconds before I fly out of Heathrow is fantastic to me. Or, a piece of information … or now I can pull up the complete works of Shakespeare. I can’t remember a line? Great, I just go online, and there it is in front of me. I think it’s absolutely sensational. The only aspect of all of this that I have never taken to — partly because I do have an addictive temperament — and that is gaming. I have a stack of games; I’ve never taken the covers off them. Because I feel that if I do … I’m finished.”

  14. I love Patrick Stewart, there is just something about his voices that draws you in, i think that if he talked about anything you can just be sucked to it, all because of that voice, it sucks that he was only in the beginning of elder scrolls Oblivion but they picked the perfect person for it.

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