Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age
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In this gripping exposé of our cyber-centric, attention-deficient life, journalist Maggie Jackson argues that we are eroding our capacity for deep attention — the building block of intimacy, wisdom, and cultural progress. The implications for a healthy society are stark.
Despite our wondrous technologies and scientific advances, we are nurturing a culture of diffusion and detachment. With our attention scattered among the beeps and pings of a push-button world, we are less and less able to pause, reflect, and deeply connect.
In her sweeping quest to unravel the nature of attention and detail its losses, Jackson introduces us to scientists, cartographers, marketers, educators, wired teens, and even roboticists. She offers us a compelling wake-up call, an adventure story, and reasons for hope.
As the author shows, neuroscience is just now decoding the workings of attention, with its three pillars of focus, awareness, and judgment, and revealing how these skills can be shaped and taught. This is exciting news for all of us living in an age of overload.
Pull over, hit the pause button, and prepare for an eye-opening journey. More than ever, we cannot afford to let distraction become the marker of our time.
60. Interview with Margaret Pearce, September 2006. 61. Cohen, Conquerors, pp. 66, 161. 62. Wilson, The Domestication of the Human Species, p. 50. 63. Interview with Mushon Zer-Aviv, September 2006. 64. Interview with Denis Wood, September 2006. 65. Rosalind Williams, Noted on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society and the Imagination (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), p. 2. 66. John Urry, Sociology beyond Societies: Mobilities for the Twentyfirst Century (London: Routledge,
scene."18 In the eighteenth century, a doctor could still diagnose diabetes, kidney failure, and other illnesses by smell, but over time, such sensory prowess faded as the eye became the arbiter of truth. "Observation rather than the a priori knowledge of medieval cosmology was viewed as the basis for scientific legitimacy, and this subsequently developed into the foundation of the scientific method of the West," said sociologist John Urry.19 Today we firmly depend on our powers of visual
of the time, they simply surfed the wider Web, trawling the enormous, churning online information sea. "I think all the information is right at my fingertips," said Jasmine, a solidly built senior with braids and a quick smile. "If I have time, I can search and find anything I want. It's not always the most reliable sources at times, but a lot of cited real documentation is on the Internet. It's like that journal from Duke. All I did was type around and Googled, and it came up." She last visited
Georgetown's School of Foreign Service, and she switches prostheses the way some change jewels. (She has different sets of legs depending on whether she wants to wear flats, or inch-high, two-inch, or four-inch heels.) Mullins shows us "an unstoppable `difference' that is not about negation but about the alterity of `becoming,"' writes Sobchak, who wears a prosthetic leg due to cancer. Those of us who inhabit only flesh can wear glass slippers. Mullins can slip on glass feet. The body isn't meat.
cassette tapes? "Any file stored more than six to eight years ago and not transferred to something more modern in the meantime, is on its way to doom," remarks technology writer James Fallows.30 So like neomedievalists, we are fated to copy, converting what we can into the language of the day, so it can be translated into a future technological tongue. Or we must build chameleonlike machines that can read old techno-speak. In a project that chief US archivist Allen Weinstein likens to the 1960s