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Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science Will Transform Schools and Business for the 21s t Century Paperback – Jul 31 2012
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"In her galvanic new book, Ms. Davidson, one of the nation’s great digital minds, has written an immensely enjoyable omni-manifesto. Rooted in . . . rigorous history, philosophy and science, this book . . . doubles as an optimistic, even thrilling, summer read.” — Virginia Hefferman, New York Times
"A remarkable new book Now You See It offers a fresh and reassuring perspective on how to manage anxieties about the bewildering pace of technological change. . . . Her work is the most powerful yet to insist that we can … manage the impact of these changes.” — Anya Kamenetz, Fast Company
"The author takes us on a journey through contemporary classrooms and offices to describe how they are changing—or, according to her, should change. . . .Now You See It is filled with instructive anecdotes and genuine insights."
— Mark Changizi, Wall Street Journal
"Her book 'Now You See It' celebrates the brain as a lean, mean, adaptive multitasking machine that — with proper care and feeding — can do much more than our hidebound institutions demand of it. . . Davidson is such a good storyteller, and her characters are well drawn."
“Davidson has produced an exceptional and critically important book, one that is all-but-impossible to put down and likely to shape discussions for years to come.” [Top 10 Science Book, Fall 2011]
— Publishers Weekly
“Humorous, poignant, entertaining, endearing, touching and challenging. It is a book I would happily recommend to anyone engaged in teaching at any level … It is devised to convince readers that the human mind is ready for the next quantum advance into our collective future.” — Steve Wheeler, Book of the Week, Times Higher Education
“Practice Collaboration by Difference: This idea is stolen directly from Cathy N. Davidson's marvelous book, Now You See It. . . .If innovation is our goal then we must pay careful attention to the diversity of the people around our project tables.” — Joshua Kim, Inside Higher Ed
“A preview of the future from an educational innovator... it is becoming clear that our minds are capable of multitasking to a degree far beyond what the 20th-century assembly-line worker or middle manager was trained to do...[Davidson's] points are worth pondering.” — Kirkus
“There is an emerging consensus that higher education has to change significantly, and Davidson makes a compelling case for the ways in which digital technology, allied with neuroscience, will play a leading role in that change.” — William Pannapacker, Chronicle of Higher Education
“[Davidson] makes a provocative case for radical educational and business reforms. . . . Davidson's call to experiment with digital schemes that turn students and workers into motivated problem solvers rings as clear as a bell atop a little red schoolhouse." — Bruce Bower, Science News
“The book's purpose and strength are in detailing the important lessons we can glean from the online world. If Davidson is right, 21st-century society will move away from categorizing people based on standardized tests, which are crude measures of intelligence at best. Instead we will define new metrics, ones that are better aligned with the skills needed to succeed in the shifting global marketplace. And those who cannot embrace this multidisciplinary world will simply be left behind.”
— Brian Mossop, Scientific American
“Davidson's claim that mono-tasking (the idea that a person can focus on one single task at hand) is an unrealistic model of how the brain works, seems strikingly persuasive. Davidson also calls for a reform in education . . . [that] helps kids become multitasking, problem-solving thinkers."
— Sophie Duvernoy, LA Weekly
“The technological changes around us are of unprecedented proportions... In this book Cathy Davidson integrates findings from psychology, attention, neuroscience, and learning theory to help us get a glimpse of the future and more importantly a better understanding of our own individual potential." — Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational
“Now You See It is simply fantastic. Only Cathy Davidson could pull off such a sweeping book. It is about so much more than just education or even learning. It is about a way of being. Her book and stories are incredibly important for the true arc of life learning and for constantly becoming!" — John Seely Brown, author of A New Culture of Learning
“Cathy Davidson has one of the most interesting and wide ranging minds in contemporary scholarship, a mind that ranges comfortably over literary arts, literacy, psychology, and brain science... Her ambitious and timely book is certain to attract a lot of attention and to catalyze many discussions.” — Howard Gardner, Harvard University
"One cutting edge of educational practice is participatory learning…and one frontier of brain research is what is happening to our attention in the always-on era. Cathy Davidson is a natural to bring together these neuroscientific and educational themes."
— Howard Rheingold, author of Smart Mobs and Net Smart
“Now You See It starts where Malcolm Gladwell leaves off, showing how digital information will change our brains. Think Alvin Toffler meets Ray Kurzweil on Francis Crick's front porch. We need this book.”
— Daniel Levitin, author of This Is Your Brain on Music and The World in Six Songs
About the Author
Cathy N. Davidson codirects the annual HASTAC/MacArthur Digital Media and Learning competitions. She holds distinguished chairs in English and interdisciplinary studies at Duke University and has published more than a dozen books. She lives in Durham, North Carolina.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
I finished Torkel Klingberg's "The Overflowing Brain" just before this. It's a far better book, from a working scientist. I'd also recommend How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker or The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar. Now You See It is a rambling rehash, and unless it's your first book about the recent insights into how the brain works, I take a pass on this one.
There are many useful ideas in this book. It can give teachers and workers some great ideas that should help them to be more productive. The attention blindness comparison may have been used a bit often. Some of the issues explained by it may also be explained by glitches in other executive functions like monitoring, task initiation, and organization. Perceptual and emotional factors may also cause a person to miss important information in the environment, or interpret it in a manner which is not useful to him or her. I'm also not sure that I'm as confident as the author that our kids are "all right." In any event, I got a lot out of this book. I recommend that you read it.
From infancy on, we are socialized about what matters, in ways that are often invisible to us, as Davidson incisively and accessibly depicts through a "case study" of infant Andy. Attention blindness can not be avoided--no one's cognitive capacity can encompass everything--but we can be more conscious about what we choose to attend to, and Davidson provides many helpful tips and tools for so doing. Davidson wants learning to be a verb when it is too often a noun. And she advocates for the importance of unlearning, which may in fact be harder than learning yet is necessary to prepare us for future possibilities.
While one of the frequent concerns about the digital world is that it isolates us behind screens-- scrolling through the Facebook postings of "friends" rather than spending face-to-face time with friends, and leading to increased isolation and egocentrism. Davidson underscores the degree to which technology can unite us and, by making possible unprecedented access to others, can enable us to collaborate in ways that overcome individual oversights through collectivity.
She aptly notes that "multi-tasking" has become a prominent verb in modern life, and an equally prominent complaint, leading to a perpetual state of partial attention that many fear is at the expense of deep thought. Davidson reframes multitasking as being about distribution rather than distraction. Rather than think of continuous partial attention as a bane, we can consider it a boon in equipping us for flourishing in an increasingly digital world, and as an essential, adaptive mode for the twenty-first century in which everything links to everything else in an interconnected network of networks, providing access that is empowering and can lead to greater efficiencies, especially if we partner with others who compensate for what we miss in our partiality.
Furthermore, she debunks the idea of mono-tasking as being a myth--our brains are inherently inquisitive. They crave activity and engagement, and in fact internal distractions supercede external during any given hour at work. An astonishing 80 percent of our neural energy is taken up not by external distractions at all but by the mind talking to itself. Even when we're engaged in reading a long book, our minds drift about 25% of time. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Davidson references a researcher who has found that more of the areas of the brain light up when a person is daydreaming than when the same person is engaged in a concentrated task. Remote parts of the brain "talk" to one another in those down times, and it's about twenty times more active than when it's being stimulated from outside, which is pretty positive. And, perhaps counterintuitively, she reveals that the brain uses far less energy when it's multitasking than if it's in a deep, meditative state.
Overall Davidson neither valorizes nor vilifies the implications of the internet on attention but rather reminds us that the Internet is still in its adolescence--which explains its awkwardness!--and that most of us haven't figured out the best ways to engage in the digital world. She encourages us to consider new digital ways of thinking not as multitasking but multi-inspiring, as eliciting potentially creative disruption of usual thought patterns that can lead to new insights. Rather than resist or resent digital realities, she encourages us to relish them, providing a chance to re-envision school practices to equip young people for very different labor realities of the 21st century AND to re-envision work practices to increase effectiveness and satisfaction of workers while increasing productivity.
The disconnect between our digital lives and our daily lives as they play out in school or work tends to be too stark, and perhaps at the root of increasing rates of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) and the attention "deficits" most of us suffer from in some capacity and yet which Davidson astutely insinuates may be more about institutional rather than individual inadequacies.
Promoting interdisciplinariness and cross-fertilizations of all kinds can help. Deepening and differentiating instruction and assessment beyond the standardized practices of yore can help. Being mindful of attention and distraction (a cue to consciousness!) and managing your time with intentionality (digital holidays!) can help. The Internet provides an unprecedented opportunity to think and work in a more networked way; the question is whether our institutions, and the entrenched thinking that can is willing to evolve in response to such opportunities.
Davidson denaturalizes schooling by depicting how we came to have the schools we have, and how reflective they were of the values and needs of the Industrial Age in which they were created. Yet they have not evolved to reflect the Information Age in which we currently live or, better yet, the Age that lies ahead of us. Far from needing to preserve the status quo, there is all but uniform agreement that our schools need to evolve, and yet an enormous inability to do so systemically.
Is another world possible? One of the things that has been most effective about the current Occupy Wall Street movement is the degree to which it's shaken the public--and The Establishment --from our relative attention blindness and tacit acceptance of the vast, unacceptable inequalities. Making Now You See It required reading for leaders and educators from kindergarten through college would be a great way to agitate against inertia in education, and might just inspire an Occupy Education movement....
Some thoughts and questions on my mind after reading Now You See It.
*How can we capitalize on what works about, say, game design and incorporate effective such as instant and continuing feedback and progressive challenges into spheres of formal learning?
*Much as George Bush infamously noted that he wouldn't want to hire anyone for his administration who didn't cross-train (if only he'd been unwilling to hire anyone who didn't have a brain, or a heart), Davidson urges that we would do well to embrace cognitive cross-training--interconnected neural training activities that help minimize attention blindness, assist in multitasking, and promote collaboration by difference.
*Encouraging, rather than discouraging, mind-wandering might turn out to be exactly what we need to encourage more of in order to accomplish the best work in a global, multimedia digital age.
*Despite well-known recommendations of repetition being the key to learning (which is certainly an important element), Davidson underscores that "what surprises the brain is what allows for learning. Incongruity, disruption, and disorientation may well turn out to be the most inspiring, creative, and productive forces one can add to the workplace." Figuring out how to tap into these productively within classrooms is challenging, but worth exploring further.
I recommend Now You See It to anyone concerned about the future of learning--and the future overall!
The book is worth a fast look just for the stories on the diverse ways people are trying to adjust to our new instant communications, and sharing of information. In particular her own experiences in experimenting in this wide area are interesting, but I don't see a wide application.
Many of us have been exposed to our intellectual and cultural myopia by having seen the video of two basketball teams passing balls between them, being asked to count them and then finding out our concentration on the action has us overlook the fact that during the video a person in a gorilla suit walks across the screen. It is a classic used by many in academia who then tailor the significance to the particular class, psychology, cultural anthropology, and courses in creativity, among others. The message of this volume is that there so much information passing past our senses that we need a new way of accessing and effectively using that richness which is the largess of our increasingly digital world, the world of Twitter, Facebook and Google. We need new ways of thinking, including accessing knowledge through the "Wisdom of the Crowds".
It is unfortunate that the publisher seems to have added the subtitle on "Brain Science" which can imply that somehow, our knowledge of this will help us bridge the gap into the wide world of social networking and multi-tasking. This seems more a marketing piece rather than alerting the reader to any serious discussion of neurophysiology or how it can do more than possibly provide a frame for understanding rather than provide us with a vehicle to enhance the ability to more effectively engage in a digitally driven, information rich environment- that is, unless, one might suspect that it suggests a human/machine interface- a cyborg driven world much promoted in the growing science fiction literature and game play in virtual worlds, subjects not in serious evidence in this volume.
One of the key examples in the book which has attracted attention was an experiment where students at Duke were given early access to iPods to see what use could be made of these new devices in class as students involved their colleagues and faculty. What is not cited is the more interesting experiment of Sagata Mitha who stuck computers with internet access in a wall which was in the slums of India where street children with little or no education quickly figured out how to use these devices. How much learning occurs at the individual level and how much is contributed because of crowd synergy is a question that is not clearly explored in this book "on a mission".
The author, while promoting the experiment as an example of crowd sourcing new applications, seems remiss in not reflecting that this example has been repeated since humans, as represented in Kubric's film, 2001, first figured out that a bone might serve as a weapon as well as a myriad of other uses. One also forgets that distributing iPods to education is an Apple favorite starting with the Apple II's. Additionally, when the first Commodore computer was introduced, high school kids were discovering functions in the micro processors that even Commodore programmers and technicians had not discovered. Creative problem solving classes have long given students exercises such as finding 50 uses for a paper clip, a potato or other "found" object. It's the same inventiveness exhibited by teams of school age kids who have to figure out how to drop an egg from 6 feet without breaking or fold paper to bridge a gap which has an "x" kg of weight sitting on it. While there was some collaborative creativity in the Duke experiment, the ultimate value was to Apple and their marketing group which not only had new uses but the opportunity to do viral marketing to a key audience at little cost- clever Apple.
"Now You See It" uses examples from both inside the education establishment and from the world of work to suggest that, perhaps, the current model of education with its lock step, age-defined, cohorts of achieving individuals might not be preparing the next generations for surviving and thriving in the digital age. There are a number of selective examples based on individuals that have crossed her path. Interestingly, it's these persons, as individuals, who have effectively been able to maneuver between the Scylla of "communities" and the Charybdis of the individual as cultural creative. The latter term comes from the 60's and 70's and the "flower power" generation which singled out insightful thought leaders. That trend continues today as evidenced by Davidson using interviews of influential individuals whom she can identify with her metaphor. This is, of course, diametrically opposed to the thinking of publishing guru John Brockman who, with his Edge network, singles out individuals for their insights and contributions across all disciplines. Additionally, significant funding for the work at Duke comes from the MacArthur Foundation which also sponsors genius grants.
Crowd sourcing, smart or flash mobs are like a saturated solution of salt. Drop one seed into the mixture and the crystals fall out in a pile. There is the joke about the person sent to prison only to find the inmates yelling out numbers and the rest laughing. When the new person asks why, he is told that the individual jokes have been memorized and given a number. The new person yells out a number and no one laughs. He is subsequently told that he just doesn't know how to tell a joke. Careful reflection will find that few of these groups are without a catalytic event, intervention, or without a goal. Apple challenges students in exchange for a, then new and novel, digital recorder, company "x' gives out prizes such as Tee Shirts, and drug companies create demands to cure problems that the public doesn't realize that it has.
Davidson describes the experience of Chuck Hamilton at IBM with their model of endeavor-based work is an interesting example. As explained, individuals are responsible for obtaining results, often accessing skills that are not within their formal training as well as collaborating with others. When they have made the appropriate contribution, they move on to work on other problems with other colleagues.
Unfortunately, this becomes another classroom example to raise interest and then to move onward. Amongst the many issues that bear on the work of IBM is the fact that other companies are engaged, have been involved with or have partially initiated similar efforts, such as the retailer, Best Buy with its "competency" based structure as described in Ressler and Thompson's book, "Work Sucks" (1). What is interesting here is that it is the results only aspect of this competency model which basically gives an individual permission to come and go at work as they please which could include taking off at mid-day for golf or other non-work related activity.
Furthermore, the IBM experience described here is part of a much larger effort of IBM in the arena of knowledge management, KM, and its different approaches internally and with clients globally. It has been a practice long used by technology companies such as 3M which encourages such collaboration which, at one time were called "Skunk Works". Cognitive Edge, a spin-off by a former employee of IBM/England's KM group is one of the few with sound epistemological and ontological underpinnings, adding legitimacy to its academic counterparts in the KM area. In fact, KM, long seen by academics as a "practice" and not a serious discipline, points out that in many instances, not just in K-12, education is a lagging indicator.
The book reads like a long power point presentation given over the course of a semester to an interdisciplinary freshman course or a series of public lectures selectively given as keynotes. For example, Davidson cites as fact that student writing on blogs shared by peers shows distinctly better style and structure than papers presented to academics. The rationale is unexamined anecdotal evidence. What is not explored is the depth, sophistication and insights required for peer blogs as opposed to what may be demanded by faculty. Additionally, faculty, not in the English arena, excuse student writing claiming their interest is in content mastery. As a journal editor, it is also clear that word "smithing" is not high on the agenda of faculty who write for scholarly publication in specialty areas. Davidson is an exception with this publication for the lay public rather than peers.
In the opening example of the gorilla and in the discussion on IBM's example of "endeavor-based" work, what is missing is the hard-learned lesson of the creative problem-solving group, Synectics, and more recently, the experience of Wikipedia. A community of peers without selective expertise may be the equivalent of self-medication or being one's own lawyer. While blog posts of students may appear to be more stylistically sophisticated, the level of conversation and knowledge integration often seem to lack the depth needed to challenge intellectually, lending some credence to T.S. Eliot's Prufrock.
It is interesting that Davidson spends a significant time discussing play based on IBM's use of 2nd Life while ignoring that her own institution, Duke, houses the prestigious Fuqua business school which had commissioned from a 3rd party provider its own metaverse, and Duke has underwritten the development of its own metaverse, The Open Croquet Project. Additionally, for example, IBM has created metaverses for various clients.
Again, Davidson's intellectual stone skipping across the entire metaverse or virtual worlds has omitted the entire universe of game play, serious games and their uses outside of academia, not just for the uses by IBM as described in Now You See It, but to cover the range of human wants/needs, from the military, to high technology testing to the study of societies, the bio/physical environment and education of individuals P-to-adult. When books such as this are written, in addition to footnotes, there are usually extensive references and, often an annotated bibliography. If, indeed, this is a set of introductory lectures, this seems reasonable since filling out the holes seemingly of intellectual quicksand, becomes a challenge. But this volume, by Viking, is aimed at the lay public which deserves more than a keynote by an author on a mission.
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