Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

20 October 2008

Distractions and reflections

Clark @ 3:45 PM

The other day, I wanted to read an article on the CLO site.  I went there, but I found the article too hard to read; there were bloody animated gifs everywhere!  Really, it’s only like 5 years since we realized that animated gifs make things hard to look at, and it’s based upon perceptual psychology way older than that.

Our eyes have cones at the center that pick up color and fine detail, and rods at the edge that kick in for low-light situations.  Those rods also detect motion, and we’re wired to move our attention to things that move in the periphery of our vision (survival, naturally :).  So, if we’re focused on reading something, and an ad is moving in the periphery, we can’t read it well. And CLO spread the article across four pages with moving ads all over the place.  I gave up, which I presume isn’t their intention.  Time to get a clue; you can’t process what you can’t attend to.

That’s a low level distraction, but we see this at multiple levels.  A higher-level one that’s going on around here is the kitchen demolition. It’s made it harder to blog, as I’ve had a hard time doing deep reflection when there’re continual interruptions (worse these next few days, I’ve got the kids while my wife is away visiting her mother; don’t expect there to be a lot of posts this week).  Interestingly, it hasn’t had a similar impact on my tweeting, which is an interesting outcome.  We intuitively know that tweeting is different than blogging (hence the sobriquet: micro-blogging), but it was brought home more vividly. It’s interesting to think about the cognitive differences we find, and their utility for learning.  As I previously mentioned, social networking could support virtual mentorships, and tweeting I think is more immediately tied to a person’s current state, while blogs are more closely tied to their longer-term thinking.  Both, of course, could/should be coupled together for a really rich picture.  How many of you are finding that watching a person’s tweets and blog posts together provide a rich picture?

There’s another level, of course, at the organizational level.  Doug Engelbart, one of our true visionaries, who’s guiding principle of augmenting human intelligence has led him to contributions in many places, has talked about a three-layer system for ongoing improvement.  He posits one layer reviewing our daily action for improvements, and his unique insight is a layer above, looking to improve our improvement processes, across organizations.  The ongoing review is sort of an institutionalized reflection, and the next layer is meta-learning at an societal level.

I still argue that one of the best investments that can be made is reflection, particularly for knowledge work and any individual or organization that needs to not just survive but thrive in the growing flow of information and chaos.  Systematize it, support it, promote it, reward it, and use it.


  1. Tēnā koe Clark – I couldn’t agree more!

    I researched the value (use?) of animated gifs years ago. They are distracting – powerfully.

    A distractor distracts because it attracts attention – and presumably away from where the attention should be held. That’s why I advocate that IF you are going to use an animated gif, it has to serve its purpose, and not detract form the theme.

    This also means that there should be only one animation, otherwise there’s competition between two or more distractors. Used appropriately, an animation becomes a powerful teaching resource.

    Reflection? I believe you’re spot on again! How the hell can anyone reflect when they’re distracted? Reflection also has to be at least once removed from the context of what’s being reflected.

    It has its greatest effect when the person who is reflecting is far removed from the event or events that are being reflected on. The world’s greatest poets have all known the power of this aspect of reflection.

    Kia ora!
    from Middle-earth

    Comment by Ken Allan — 21 October 2008 @ 1:24 AM

  2. Blogs plus tweets do provide a richer picture in making someone’s thoughts more, well, “human.” From Facebook, I can tell by the status of a certain friend (elearing blogger) that they are just as busy as I am on the weekends with their kids’s activities, and probably shouldn’t attempt home repair themselves, esp. with not-so-flat walls. ;D (I was about to offer a friendly tip, but my carpenter hubby said to keep my nose out…)

    When there’s a sense of honesty and personality put into the blogs and tweets, the “following around” part is much more interesting and easier for the reader (me) to learn by as it’s more real-to-life. Not to sound like a “groupie” but as busy as I am I have to prioritize reading the blogs I subscribe to. I miss a few here and there, but always make it a point to catch up on the insights of one particular blogger/tweeter. :)
    ~Stephanie F.

    Comment by Stephanie — 24 October 2008 @ 10:00 AM

  3. Thanks for the feedback. Yes, Ken, reflection is key. Thanks for the kind words Stephanie. Too late for the help, anyway, managed to kludge it through anyway. Just found out our kitchen floor is 1.5″ out of level, too. C’est la vie!

    Comment by Clark — 24 October 2008 @ 10:47 AM

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