Jump in before all the water is gone

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It is amazing when the comment section of a blog post is longer than the post. The barrier to post is high enough that most people don’t. The comments I refer to are the ones that equal in quality and value of the original, twitter sized posts need not apply. This barrier is true for many online social interactions for at least three reasons:

First, “what’s in it for me?” goes unanswered. What is the incentive to participate? If you write a blog, it might be part of your life interaction model – comment and catalog in your space while linking to the inspiration. If you bookmark, it might be in hopes to remember and revisit. In general, there are relatively few obvious benefits. One answer is to be heard – just remember to have something worth saying.

Second, the efforts of a few benefit many. The vast majority of information is unvisited, untagged, unrated and uncommented. For those who participate, thank you. The time you take to read, understand and evaluate (even if imperfectly), makes finding information easier. That someone takes the time to “touch” something interesting adds value for those who come behind it. The fact that many are willing to join in, leaves well-worn and lasting marks.

Third, contribution takes time. In our information congested, attention sliced, multi-tasked world, taking a moment to contribute back costs too much, especially when considering a well thought out, well-written comment.

Yet, more of the world is growing up in time when participating is commonplace. Enter stage right: YouTube,, Digg, Twitter and Facebook. The question is, are we saying something worthy of further thinking? There are certainly professional circles that are interested in mining the social data created, but what is it that we are contributing? This is all, very much, a social experiment without the vague beginnings of a thesis. However, it is the world we live in and for an increasing many, the only world they know.

One of Michael Wesch’s anthropology classes at Kansas State pulled together another three minutes of visual delight expressing the current state of the student.

Screen shot of video on Youtube

With an average class size of 115, only 18% of their teachers can recognize them and call them by name. Let us be generous and say a given student has 10 teachers, that means two know them from another. Eighty percent of the time, students are anonymous.

This is good, because they only complete half of the assigned readings 70% of which are irrelevant to their life. You can just feel the low grown from all the humanities majors, especially those from Ivy League schools. Makes you wonder what they missed in the other half of the readings or what it means to be relevant. The good news is that they read! The eight books per semester average seems insignificant to the time and attention devoted to the 2300 web pages and over 1200 FaceBook profiles. I am still stunned that they read! The level of real literacy is astounding. I digress. The interesting part of this is that the books and assigned readings have been hand selected by highly educated people. The web pages and FaceBook profiles are self-selected. With the undisputed fact that we exist in information chaos, the idea that students would skip 50% of the hand-selected literature is amazing. Furthermore, the content of the websites and certainly the sophistication of FaceBook profiles is not quite that of the New York Times – most college reading is, at least it use to be.

Students write 42 pages for class in a semester and over 500 pages of email. Apparently, there are 105 days in a semester at Kansas State, which means a student on average writes one page for class every 2.5 days and in that same amount of time will generate 12 pages in email. Are we asking students to do too much? Certainly, writing for class is harder than writing email, but when they enter the work force, most of the emails, papers and presentations they will give should approximate the level they develop for class work.

At one point in the video a young lady holds up a sign saying that when you total all of the time they spend on things in a day it goes over 24 hours. Brilliant! Soft productivity measures are often captured in “time saved.” Many joke that we save more time than there is in a day by introducing and improving business solutions. In the next scene, a student holds a sign saying they multitask, because they have to. We all do or we cannot competitively produce results. Those 24 hours need to contain the productivity of a much longer day. The busiest among us seem to deprive of sleep, regular meals and personal time to accomplish their goals. The students say they get seven hours of sleep, which is good, because sleep is important for a healthy mind and body. Well-rested people are more productive than their non-stop counterparts are over time – a simple Google search will show you all the ways skimping on sleep hurts. The multitasking skill will come in handy as they cram more than a days activity and get countless hours back from corporate IT to fit it all in.

Generations of students are being built by systems that fail to fully educate. As a society, we communicate academic achievement by single, standardized measures, not more fundamental values around identity, society and global impact for example. We fail to consider the fundamental changes in our children (e.g. read about millennials) as relevant input to evolving education. We alter the standards by which we set and measure expectations by allowing students to proceed with no correction – they too will become teachers, doctors, business-folk and what will they value? If we are what we eat | read | think | express, then what does it mean when your reading and writing is so FaceBook, Twitter and email focused?