People Aren’t Listening. Now What?

People Aren’t Listening. Now What?

Distracted. Disconnected. Dehumanized.

The list of concerns continue to mount in an increasingly connected, hyper-speed society. The latest is from Seth S. Horowitz’s The Science and Art of Listening:

“Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing in a world of digital distraction and information overload” (Horowitz).

While listening has long been an issue, I tend to agree that we are seeing this issue of hearing instead of listening greatly amplified in today’s society.

The reality is…

  1. digitally distracted (or engaged depending how you look at it) is not going away
  2. information overload is not going away
So I’m somewhat frustrated by these types of articles about the horrors of this digital age.  Not so much about the fact that these things are happening (I’m concerned, too) but the ongoing focus almost exclusively on what we are losing without any insights on what to do:
  • this digital world isn’t going away
  • what are we gaining not just losing
  • what are the things that we are losing that we should lose
  • what are the things that we are losing that we should work to preserve
  • how do we preserve these items in a world that has changed
Yes, he dedicates one block of text to what could be seen as “what to do”. Let me sum it up in one word: listen. And perhaps it is that easy but I wish articles like these would spend a bit more time on actionable steps and resolutions than on telling all about the problem.

Because here is the thing. An article like this will be passed around the work place, shared via email, and discussed around the lunch table or formal meeting room. People will nod in agreement over the travesty of it all.

And then in education, we will hold these types of pieces up lik beacons of light calling us to fight against the travesty of technology. We’ll build upon them a solution that keeps the grounds of the school sacred by saying “No digital here”. And then we’ll wonder why students seem distracted, disconnected, and dehumanized while on our sacred grounds. We’ll wonder why students are compliant but not critical and creative. We’ll wonder why students struggle to make sense of the two worlds they are forced to live.

I’m tired of the “look at this!” attitude just as much as I’m tired of the “so what!” attitude. I’d like to see more “now what?” attitude.


  1. Hey Ryan —
    I like how you extend my thoughts —
    But on this one, I am having a hard time with this:
    and I don’t wish to read into your words — but does digital connectivity mean that students would not be “distracted, disconnected, and dehumanized?”

    I hope not and have to admit it — I have seen not. I have lately visited several schools that have connectivity opportunities all over the place — 1:1, wifi to the max, unfiltered as much as possible, and supposedly collaboration projects all the time……

    Yet, these students are NOT connecting — at least not with each other. And I have to agree that “Listening is a skill that we’re in danger of losing…….” — but not just listening but also connecting Face to Face. Without the influence or interruption of digital devices clamoring to be heard, to be seen, and to be given priority.

    For me —
    I am struggling to find a balance.
    1. We don’t want to disconnect our students when they cross the threshhold of our sacred campus at 8am each morning — to provide an opportunity and availability to extend conversations and learning beyond just the walled in classroom
    but also
    2. Where our student connect F2F just as powerfully as we believe they are connecting virtually.

    For me — my now what would be this:
    A classroom begins a conversation, a learning, a project — whatever first within the walls. The students learn to reason together, to debate together — TO LISTEN…..and the teacher does as well.
    Then that conversation becomes broader — perhaps a blog post or a skype call or a virtual field trip or an ACTUAL field trip – to open the conversation to different voices, thoughts, and suggestions.

    I don’t think the problem in the classroom anymore is that the students are not connected to technology — and so they disconnect —
    I believe our bigger problem is the teacher is not connected to the students and the students don’t know how to connect with each other. So everyone tunes out. And then many times — grabbing something to connect to digital because they don’t know how to connect any other way.

    And I have to agree that I think the main issue is — we are no longer listening and watching — and paying attention to what is right before our eyes — and our ears.

    Just my thoughts _
    I look forward to others sharing their thoughts as well.

    • @jen

      Great thoughts that I need to process. Your first thought about something I said is where I’ll start.

      You are correct how you read it. The point was that whether technology or not, we’ll be asking our students why they are distracted and disconnected.

      If you bring the tech, we will be asking it. If we don’t, we will be asking it. Same question but different contexts.

      The reality is we have a social issue that is being addressed by pointing at or hiding from the problem not making means to address it.

      Thanks again for pushing me for clarity 🙂

  2. Thanks for a thoughtful critique, Ryan. I certainly agree that we need much more “Now what?” A similar phrase that’s got some umph is “Yes, and” — when it replaces “Yes, but…” I’ve written and presented on “The Myth of the Digital Native.” Generational (or situational) stereotyping of the digital realm and its inhabitants isn’t helpful.
    Your consistent focus on learning is admirable. I’m on a campaign to revive an old word, mathetics, the study of modes of learning, in order to elevate that focus to a stature at least equal to that of pedagogy.


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