Short-attention spans; does anyone still THINK?

I spoke yesterday at The Economist conference, Information: Making Sense of the Deluge. Very interesting speakers, I was excited to go. The stated and sincere intent was to get a  discussion going, including the audience. But the format was like watching TV news (and I don’t mean PBS): toss someone on stage, let them roll a 6 minute video, answer a few questions, and on to the next. This format was good for Twitter-bytes, but not for thinking or reflecting or building ideas.

One of the topics was Nick Carr on how “pseudo-multitasking” is hurting our brains. The conference itself seemed to follow the same format. This morning, for example, the schedule for the first 50 minutes has 7 different people on stage, in four sessions:

Act II:   Bottom up: Information for people
8.35 am
Flash of genius: How to translate the internet
Luis von Ahn, A. Nico Habermann, Associate Professor, Carnegie Mellon University
8.45 am
Flash of genius: Turning information into knowledge
Amit Singhal, Engineer, Google
8.55 am
Data exhaust
The intersection of search and big data
Luc Barthelet, Executive Director, Wolfram Alpha
Arkady Borkovsky, Chief Technology Officer, Yandex Labs
Moderator: Kenneth Cukier, Business Correspondent, The Economist
9.15 am
Flash of genius: The information entrepreneur
Scott Yara,Vice-president, Products and Co-founder, Greenplum
The audience is finding plenty to Twitter about. But 10 minutes is only time for a sales pitch; it is not enough time to discuss the weaknesses as well as the strengths of an idea.
On the plus side, this means there’s still a need for academics who can sit in an empty room and work on one thing for an hour. Of course to accomplish that I have to discipline myself not to check email…..
A  friend who was there told me he “never follows Twitter.” It turns out that  he means  he keeps a Twitter feed in the corner of his screen 100% of the time; he just does not explicitly devote time to reading it! Talk about distractions…

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