Thursday, June 17, 2010

SLA2010: Days 2-6 - Notes -- Part 1

I've divided this blog post into three parts. This is part one...

Typical New Orleans architecture3000+ people attended the SLA Annual Conference this year in New Orleans, LA. We survived this heat (90+F), humidity and heat advisory warnings. (Some of us even thrived in it!) At one point, the heat index was 112F.  Besides the unusual high heat for this time of year, we were also surprised - pleasantly - by the wonderful seafood.  Yes, there is an oil spill off the Gulf Coast, but there is plenty of great seafood in restaurants across the city. By the way, even places that serve "fast food" had good local cuisine and seafood! (I should also note that contrary to some opinion, New Orleans in not on the coast, but rather on the Mississippi River, so there no oil washing up here.)

By the way, it is important to note that 101 people attended a virtual version of the conference.  This was SLA's first attempt at this and it will offer a virtual conference option next year.

The Conference - The more involved you get in SLA, the longer the conference becomes. For most, the conference begins on Sunday and ends on Wednesday. The Board, however, meets on Friday and Saturday, and there are other meetings on Saturday and Sunday. Given that I attended meetings on Friday, my conference this year was six days in length and I spent much of that time learning more about the inner workings of the Association as well as listening to members ideas and concerns about SLA.

The opening keynote on Sunday was given by James Carville and Mary Matalin, husband and wife political strategists from opposite sides of the political landscape.  While they talked about the changing landscape of information and the media, they were most passionate when talking about the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico. While I appreciated hearing them, what made the biggest impact on me was hearing them talk about the culture of this region and how it is in danger.

"The net seizes our attention only to scatter it." - Nicholas Carr

The closing keynote was given by Nicholas Carr, whose latest book is The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains.  While research is still being done, evidence seems to point to the fact that our ability to concentrate and focus is being changed by the way we are now reading (or skimming) information.  Our brains, which hundreds of years ago needed to be able to shift focus quickly in order to spot danger, were re-wired through book reading to focus for long periods of time on one activity.  Now we're re-building the ability to quickly change focus from on thing to another (multi-tasking or quickly serial-tasking).  What does that mean for a student's ability to do research and learn?  How will it impact our lives and our work?  And will some people -- perhaps some professionals -- keep the ability to concentrate on one task for long periods of time rather than emphasizing focusing for micro-moments? 

Carr made me realize that I need to try to limit my online reading (skimming!) time and ensure that I spend time in activities that require intense focus and concentration.  And I probably need to shut down some of my computer tools more frequently so I don't try to multi-task.

Oh...Carr said that 20 year olds spend an average of 7 minutes per day reading the printed word.  Besides the potential impact on a person's ability to concentrate, I wonder how this impacts a person's vocabulary and use of language.

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