Ping, ping! Yet another message from a friend. A lot of students go through this. You are working hard to meet your project deadline, but you are constantly interrupted. Quickly answer the message. The negative effect on people of digital devices is generally well known. Add a confusing pandemic and you have the perfect setting for an afternoon of study avoidance.
The need to study simply continues in this online era and is sorely testing the concentration abilities of students. Some deal with it better than others. In any case, it has not become easier given that everything students do is usually done in the same 10 square metres. The daily activities that would normally ensure that students have a healthy variety in their days have completely disappeared. Every sign of spontaneity is gone and the days have become extremely predictable.
Yet, many of the problems that students are struggling with date from pre-pandemic times. The introduction of the loan scheme, rising rents and the growing feeling of competition among students – partly caused by social media – are not doing much for their mental well-being. On top of that, you need to be on two or three committees, do sports, party and stay in touch with friends from before. These may all be part of a satisfying student life, but in the digital era, they seem to be leading to a kind of chronic fatigue.
‘Learn to handle a world of distractions’
Cal Newport described this phenomenon as ‘Busyness for proxy of productivity’ in his book Deep work. He explains it as people doing all sorts of things that other people can see so that they look busy. Students too are thus always busy. This can affect the deeper focus that students need to prepare for exams or projects. This creates a lot of stress. It then doesn’t help if making mistakes is seen as a mortal sin that students themselves have imposed on themselves.
Studying should always remain a pleasure. This will only be the case if TU Delft helps students learn to handle a world of distractions. Students are the last to benefit if society sets norms in which errors are punished. Even more so, students should be encouraged to take more risks in this most valuable period of their lives in which they learn the most.
In any case, students themselves can start closing the bottomless pit of distractions. Respond less quickly to your friend than usual and do not put Netflix on the minute you get bored. Let time stand still for a while. That time is entirely yours.
Can Yildiz is master student at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management. This is his first column for Delta.