Cathy Davidson

Author, Now You See It
Director, Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, CUNY

Retrain your brain for the 21st century.

Add to Shortlist "Now You See It" Homepage @CathyNDavidson


2015 Boyer Award for Significant Contributions to Higher Education

Cathy Davidson works at the intersection of digital innovation and cognitive science. A noted workplace innovator, she is a leader in developing new methods, tools, and tricks to deal with the special mental challenges we face in a digital world. Her speeches and sessions help audiences redesign their habits and retrain their brains for a better, more satisfying, and more productive future.

Cathy’s vision is crystallized in her book Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn. We live in a digital world, Cathy argues, but our ideas about learning, attention, and focus are stuck in the pre-digital past. We worry that the internet, video games, content overload, and multitasking are dumbing us down. But in fact the opposite is true: these digital resources create new modes of attention and learning — and those new modes are better-suited to the modern world than what we’re used to doing.

"Cathy Davidson integrates findings from psychology, attention, neuroscience, and learning theory to help us get a glimpse of the future and, more importantly, a better understanding of our own individual potential."
— Dan Ariely, author of Predictably Irrational and The Upside of Irrationality

As the director of the Futures Initiative at the Graduate Center, CUNY, Cathy is personally reshaping one of the most prestigious university networks in the country. She is also the co-founder of HASTAC (Humanities, Arts, Sciences and Technology Advanced Collaboratory or "haystack"), a worldwide coalition of innovators dedicated to transforming how we think and learn. She co-directs the annual $2 million HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions.

Cathy has served on the National Council on the Humanities since 2011. With David Theo Goldberg (cofounder of HASTAC), she won the 2012 World Technology Award for Education. Cathy is a visiting professor at Duke University, where she also directs the portion of HASTAC/MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning team that remains there; before coming to CUNY, she was the John Hope Franklin Humanities Institute Professor of Interdisciplinary Studies and the Ruth F. DeVarney Professor of English at Duke University. She also served as Duke’s first Vice Provost for Interdisciplinary Studies and helped to create the Program in Information Science + Information Studies and the Center for Cognitive Neuroscience.

Cathy has published more than twenty books, most recently Now You See It: How the Brain Science of Attention Will Transform the Way We Live, Work, and Learn (Viking Penguin, 2011) and The Future of Thinking: Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (with David Theo Goldberg , MIT Press, 2010). She writes for Harvard Business Review, The Wall Street Journal, Fast Company, The Washington Post, and many other publications.


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.