Sunday, 12 June 2016

Did curiosity kill the cat? No! - keep asking me the questions and I'll tell you no lies

Last Friday the fabulous ICZ Programme team and I facilitated a workshop event with 120 colleagues from across the University. The afternoon workshop was an example of the type of activities we're using in bringing to life our engagement and communications strategy. Whilst I might be a wee bit biased, I thought it was a very successful event and hopefully colleagues have a much greater understanding of what the ICZ programme is all about and how they can contribute and participate in it. And there was cake!

It was an interactive event and one of the things we did throughout the afternoon was to invite the participants to ask questions, make comments and provide feedback using their mobile phones. Simply texting their thoughts to an event number enabled their comments to appear on the screen and be shared by others. It also meant their questions were anonymised. We chose this method as experience has taught me that generally people are reticent about asking questions at big events such as this despite the desire for more information, clarification and so on. Indeed I have often chaired a conference session where I've prepared some questions on each paper being presented just in case no one from the audience asks a question of the presenters.

It's almost like curiosity has become socially inappropriate. But asking questions in such forums can bring with it different types of risk to one self - ridicule, postponed retribution, or perhaps the fear of getting more work allocated to you. Of course asking questions can sometimes have exactly the same impact on those being questioned! Indeed at the Friday afternoon event the audience were asked to Challenge Tony – the challenge being that there wasn’t a question around ICZs that I couldn’t answer. Which possibly wasn't true!

Mind you in my experience the toughest audience when it comes to answering questions are children. One of the things I enjoy most about being with my grandchildren is their insatiable inquisitiveness. Like all children, they constantly ask questions to gather information. What I find fascinating is the way in which this information is then used to learn about the world they are discovering. It is a process of sense making that is made more powerful because of the child’s own inquisitiveness – they ask questions to try and match the knowledge they have with the knowledge gaps their curiosity might have revealed. It’s all part of their cognitive development.

Depending on a child's age, children can be totally absorbed in something and stay absorbed for a while, however, often they can be like butterflies, flitting from one thing to another. This is normal and their attention span and ability to concentrate changes along with their age related cognitive development. Interestingly, it seems that many adults are increasingly mirroring the behaviour seen in children. In a study published last week by Microsoft, the results showed that the same technology that facilitated my event on Friday, the smart phone, is possibly responsible for a fall in the attention span of many adults. Smart phone use can also have a detrimental impact on our mental health and well-being – (see here)

The year 2000 is when the mobile revolution was said to have begun, and the results of the Microsoft study showed that since then, the average adult attention span has fallen from 12 seconds to around 8 seconds today. The more digitally literate in society (those who consume more media, are multi-screeners, social media enthusiasts and so on) struggle to concentrate in environments where prolonged attention is required. The study, however, did find that such people have improved abilities to multi-task. Goldfish are believed to have an attention span of 9 seconds, although they do struggle to multi-task. 

And if you are struggling with your attention span, I can recommend the book I've just finished reading to you. 'Spoiled Brats' is by the seriously funny author Simon Rich. It is a collection of short stories that brilliantly observe the relationship between parents and children of the smart phone generation. Me, I am waiting for Sunday morning to become a reasonable time of day and then I will use my computer to Facetime my granddaughter Evie. She was up here in Scotland for a holiday recently and left a wonderful note and a box of chocolates to say thank you. The note was decorated with butterflies and sparkly dinosaurs - it was simply an irresistible old fashioned communication, and I'm looking forward to responding .  

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