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Communications of the ACM


­U.K. Students Turned Into Goldfish By Social Networking

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Judy Robertson

Apparently U.K. students get distracted by social networking at least once an hour, goldfish that they are. This rare talent for multi-tasking (or astonishing rate of dim-wittedness depending on your point of view) is unparalleled worldwide. They're also the second most connected student body in the world after Chinese students, as uncovered in a cutting edge survey commissioned by Cisco (who couldn't possibly have brought an agenda to the research). The CEO of CISCO in the U.K., Phil Smith, claims that this means that employers need to consider young people's working habits, with more options for working at home and so on. Presumably working at home is advantageous for these hyper-connected young things because their bosses can't see they are using Facebook all the time. The problem with being distracted does not lie with the young people, in Mr. Smith's view. Rather “if people are getting distracted from their jobs, it's often down to bad management.” By extension, if students are being distracted by social networking in my classes, this is clearly my fault for not being entertaining enough. However, I believe I can accommodate my learners' needs by having a 2 minute social networking break every 15 minutes, as suggested for films in the recent Orange cinema advert. That should enable them to catch up on any of the really important issues they're missing by being cooped up in a lecture theatre for a whole 50 minutes at a time.

But us old folk shouldn't mock. We shouldn't laugh at the younger generation who evidently find social networking crucial to their existence. One in three students and young professionals surveyed by Cisco considers the Internet to be as important as air, food, and shelter. If you look at it that way it seems harsh of me to give lectures which last so long. After all, I wouldn't expect anyone to go without air for 50 minutes. It wouldn't be humane.


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