Yes, the many, many media streams do indeed keep us in a constant state of imagined crisis. Fortunately it hasn't really affected me too much, probably because I was raised in the "deep attention" generation (I don't feel the need to answer every phone call, text message, or email as soon as it arrives). Twitter seems to be calling my name a little more often though, so perhaps there is hope.
A couple things I found interesting in both Hayles' reading and Stone's presentation were the cognitive shift(s) that are taking place. The human mind is a very complex machine and its ability to adapt to different environmental conditions is quite remarkable. Now I understand better why some people think differently than me.
Growing up I remember my occupations were watching television (one of only three channels), listening to music, practicing piano, talking on the phone or playing with friends, and doing homework. All of these activities were centered on the activity itself. The word "multitasking" had yet to be coined (at least to my knowledge) and distractions were rare. I sat in solitude while I did my homework or practiced my piano, deeply attending to the completion of the activity at hand. It wasn't until years later that the concept of "multitasking" became the buzzword that it is today.
My definition of "multitasking" is being able to simultaneously work on multiple tasks while also being able to give each task the concentration it requires as if it were the only task being attended to. It's not merely a matter of doing two or more things at one time. Multitasking requires a total and complete shift in mindset in order for multitasking to be successful.
In other words, if someone claims they are multitasking, the result of each completed task must be of equal quality as if they had each been attended to in succession rather than simultaneously. For example, a fifteen year old is hired to keep the score of a basketball game. This activity in itself takes a good amount of undivided attention. However, while s/he is supposed to be keeping score, s/he is also texting with friends. When confronted, the teen says, "I can multitask", even though the purpose of the confrontation was the frequent inaccuracy of the score. In this example, multitasking clearly does not work because the quality of one of the tasks has been compromised.
This is where I become cynical when discussing this trend toward a culture of multitasking. My cynicism lies in the question of details that could become lost due to lack of deep attention? Will "Generation M" understand that certain things require more attention than others, while still other matters require complete attention?
The thing I find most interesting in Hayles' article is when the topic of AD/HD enters into the conversation, drawing links between "hyper" attention and the aforementioned cognitive disorder. I understand the commonalities, however one is a biological disorder while the other appears to be a cultural malfunction. We do not have control over the amount of media available to us. We do, however, have control over how much of that media we allow our children to consume. If an otherwise non-AD/HD child has to take Ritalin in order to perform well in school, there is something very wrong.
Good parenting requires regulating a child's consumption of anything that could be detrimental to that child's welfare, including over-consumption of media. Is it necessary to give children mobile phones with texting or internet capabilities? The current issues of "sexting" and "cyberbullying" could be limited if these options were not made available to kids under the age of 18. Similarly, a regulation such as this would put the purpose of the mobile phone into perspective for this age group.
Taking this idea a step further, why are social networking sites made available to kids under the age of 18? Furthermore, why do parents allow their children to participate on these sites at home? I believe the responsibility begins and ends with the parents. There are reasons for age restrictions, all having to do with the ability to handle the responsibilities that go along with the privilege.
A cultural shift is obviously taking place and I do find it intriguing. To imply, as Halyes does in her article, that "Children growing up in media-rich environments literally have brains wired differently than humans who did not come to maturity in such conditions" is simply fascinating. Additionally, as Hayles mentions, it is a condition that educators will have to come to terms with in order to be effective in their roles. A compromise between the two polarities of "hyper" attention and "deep" attention would indeed be an ideal scenario, and if educators could establish and maintain such a condition I think real progress could be made.
Therefore, I think what lies beneath these issues is perhaps thinking in terms of teaching our children how to manage a media-rich environment. A system might look like this: Kindergarten through 12th grade - limited forms of media are used for educational purposes only. Undergraduate settings - embrace previously limited forms of media in order to teach students how to use them both responsibly and professionally. A system like this would in no way discount the relevance of technology; it would simply impress the importance of different media tools in the right place and at the right time.
In reality, technology is nothing more than a set of tools. A powerful set of tools which, through continued progress, will provide great possibilities for not only our generation, but for all future generations to come. Technology is also changing our culture, creating opportunities and efficiencies our forefathers could not have imagined. But like every other set of tools, the proper uses of technology must also be taught. If we don't start these teachings at a young age by incrementally focusing on the situational pros and cons of each type of attention, progress could potentially give way to an over-stimulated culture of self-indulged mediocrity. A mediocrity hidden behind the more politically correct guise of multitasking.