Cathy Davidson

Author, Now You See It
Distinguished Professor and Founding Director, Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, CUNY

Retrain your brain for the 21st century.

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2015 Boyer Award for Significant Contributions to Higher Education

Cathy Davidson is a leading innovator in the areas of institutional change, professional development, and personal health, success, and performance in the digital age. A distinguished scholar of the history of technology, she is the author of twenty books on technology, education, and cognitive neuroscience. In her most recent book, Now You See It, Cathy Davidson uses cutting-edge brain science to offer us a positive, practical way to make the most of the possibilities in our interconnected world.

Subtitled How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn, Now You See It is a field guide and survival manual for a world that is being restructured by the internet and requires a new kind of attention. The world is changing, but the way we train for it has not. Davidson describes how we can bring the ways we live, work, and learn in line with the real potential of the digital age.

Cathy Davidson is Distinguished Professor and Founding Director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. Cathy was appointed by President Obama to the National Council of the Humanities in 2011 and she serves on the Mozilla Foundation Board of Directors. She was Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies at Duke University, the first in such a position in the nation, and co-founded Duke’s PhD Lab in Digital Knowledge. She also co-founded HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Sciences and Technology Advanced Collaboratory — ”Haystack”), a worldwide coalition of innovators transforming how we think and learn.


The New Education

How to Revolutionize the University to Prepare Students for a World In Flux

Cathy Davidson

Our current system of higher education dates to the period from 1865 to 1925, when the nation's new universities created grades and departments, majors and minors in an attempt to prepare young people for a world transformed by the telegraph and the Model T.

As Cathy Davidson argues in The New Education, this approach to education is wholly unsuited to the era of the gig economy. From the Ivy League to community colleges, she introduces us to innovators who are remaking college for our own time, by emphasizing student-centered learning that values creativity in the face of change above all. The New Education ultimately shows how we can teach students not only to survive but to thrive amid the challenges to come.

Basic Books; 1 edition (September 5, 2017)

Now You See It

How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn

Cathy Davidson

When Cathy Davidson and Duke University gave free iPods to the freshman class in 2003, critics said they were wasting their money. Yet when students in practically every discipline invented academic uses for their music players, suddenly the idea could be seen in a new light-as an innovative way to turn learning on its head. 

This radical experiment is at the heart of Davidson's inspiring new book. Using cutting-edge research on the brain, she shows how "attention blindness" has produced one of our society's greatest challenges: while we've all acknowledged the great changes of the digital age, most of us still toil in schools and workplaces designed for the last century. Davidson introduces us to visionaries whose groundbreaking ideas-from schools with curriculums built around video games to companies that train workers using virtual environments-will open the doors to new ways of working and learning. A lively hybrid of Thomas Friedman and Norman Doidge, Now You See It is a refreshingly optimistic argument for a bold embrace of our connected, collaborative future.

Viking Adult; 1 edition (August 18, 2011)

Book Reviews

Education Needs a Digital-Age UpgradeThe New York Times
A Cheat Sheet to Help Schools Foster CreativitySmithsonian
MIND Reviews: Now You See ItScientific American
This is Your Brain on the Internet, and It's Not So Bad After AllLA Weekly
My 10 Favorite Books (on Unlearning) for 2011School of Unlearning
Is the Brain Good at What It Does?The New York Times
Now You See ItPublishers Weekly
Now Your See ItTimes Higher Education


"Her book Now You See It celebrates the brain as a lean, mean, adaptive multitasking machine that — with proper care and feeding — can do much more than our hidebound institutions demand of it. The first step is transforming schools, which are out of touch with the radical new realities of the Internet era ... Davidson is such a good storyteller, and her characters are so well drawn …"
The New York Times Book Review

"In her galvanic new book, Now You See It is - as rooted in field experience, as well as rigorous history, philosophy and science - this book about education happens to double as an optimistic, even thrilling, summer read. It supplies reasons for hope about the future."
The New York Times

"In a chatty, enthusiastic style, the author takes us on a journey through contemporary classrooms and offices to describe how they are changing-or, according to her, should change. Among much else, we need to build schools and workplaces that match the demands of our multitasking brains. That means emphasizing 'nonlinear thinking,' 'social networks' and 'crowdsourcing' ... Now You See It is filled with instructive anecdotes and genuine insights."
The Wall Street Journal

"The book's purpose and strength are in detailing the important lessons we can glean from the online world. Rather than focusing on how games such as World of Warcraft or the social-networking services of Twitter and Facebook change our brains, Davidson believes we should foster these newfound skills, building curricula around interactive multiplayer games and training workers using virtual environments."
Scientific American


Cathy tailors each presentation to the needs of her audience and is not limited to the topics we have listed below. These are subjects that have proven valuable to customers in the past and are meant only to suggest her range and interests. Please ask us about any subject that interests you; we are sure that we can accommodate you.

Learning to Make Better Lives: How We Can Change Higher Education for the World We Live In Now

A passionate manifesto from one of the nation’s leading educational innovators, this talk is a real-world critique of current educational practices and an optimistic argument that we can redesign learning in school for the skills students are already developing out of school — collaborative, interest driven, connected to technology, but also deep in global understanding, diversity, and equity. “Learning to Make Better Lives” is the story of educational change — how the system we have inherited was made by real individuals, preserved by real institutions, in reaction to real technological and economic circumstances. We are a tipping point where, now, we can remake the systems we have inherited for the contemporary, global, connected world. To make change happen we have to be able to think in several directions at once. The good news is that this process is beginning everywhere worldwide. This talk offers powerful, inspiring stories of people who have already made change happen and realistically addresses the opportunities, challenges, and possibilities for changing our educational institutions for the world we live in now.

Now You See It: Learning to Pay Attention from Brain Science, Gorillas, Geeks, and Basketball Refs

Although we’ve all welcomed digital technology into our lives, many of us are still skeptical of its effects on our minds. We worry that the content overload and multitasking are dumbing us down. We look back with nostalgia and regret at the days people could just sit down, do one thing at a time, and do it well. In this talk, Cathy Davidson shows us that this old-fashioned model of attention is just one of many possible ways for the mind to work. She traces “the myth of monotasking” to the specialized, task-based, assembly-line model of work and education that grew out of the Industrial Revolution. Things have changed, and it’s only right for our brains to change with them. By combining the best new research in brain science with practical models and methods for changing our habits, Davidson doesn’t just diagnose the problem of living in the 21st century. She helps us to address those challenges in ways that help us thrive.

Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn

Education 2.0

Work in the 21st Century

The Future of Higher Education

The Future of the Humanities in a Digital Age


#nextchapter | Vancouver, Washington

How the Future of Education Demands a Paradigm Shift | NAIS

Chancellor's Colloquium at UC Davis


A non-profit association that provides services to independent schools: Dear Cathy – We are so very honored that you joined us for our 2013 [...] Annual Conference in Philadelphia. Your thoughtfulness in your presentation for our particular group was apparent and we appreciate all that you did to engage the audience. As you saw and heard from the book signing line, our attendees were both inspired and motivated by your remarks. We also appreciate how active you were on Twitter with our attendees and saw many tweets on great takeaways that came from your presentation.

Dear Dr. Davidson, Thank you for addressing the General Assembly at the [...] Annual Conference. Your talk was the perfect endnote: galvanizing, erudite, and entertaining. I teach public speaking for a living, and I was impressed. Again, my thanks for your excellent work. I aspire to it!

International nonprofit leadership forum:
Dear Cathy — A quick note to express my deep and heartfelt thanks for your presentation. I thought that it was magical and transcendent and among the very best we've had. It is in the "top ten" in my book out of more than 500 [...] papers and presentations over the years. Thank you for contributing so eloquently, meaningfully- and personally- to our work. Your ideas and perspective will help to shape our deliberations for many years to come.

I very much look forward to staying in touch and to finding ways to work together in the future.

A major U.S. university:
Dear Cathy — Thank you again for being part of our commencement ceremony here. Your presentation was exceptional; all week I've heard faculty and staff talking about how great it was, even a comment from a faculty member who said it was "the best commencement speech we've had." Thank you also for sharing your speech with us.

It was a pleasure meeting you. I hope we have the opportunity to have you back again.