Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Ph.D.

I study people, technology, and the worlds they make

Attention, attention

Driving home this evening I heard an interview with Maryanne Wolf, author of Proust and the Squid. Many of the interview dealt with questions of attention: are we focusing less? Are we less able to focus?

This subject seems to be picking up steam. There’s a new book called Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, by columnist Maggie Jackson, The New York Times blog Shifting Careers has a guest post by Jackson:

Should we blame the BlackBerry and other devices? No. The P.D.A., the cellphone and the computer did not usher in our hypermobile, split-focus, cybercentric culture. Instead, the first high-tech revolutions more than a century ago created new experiences of time and space that have intensified. Inventions like the telegraph, cinema, railroad and airplane shattered distance and upended ancient temporal rhythms. Our age of speed and overload has been building for generations.

But just as we are working toward a green earth, so we can find ways to create what I like to call “planet focus.” What’s needed is a renaissance of attention — a revaluing and cultivating of the art of attention, to help us achieve depth of thought and relations in this complex, high-tech time.

Jackson’s blog talks more about distraction. RSS it, then forget to read it for several months.

1 Comment

  1. This seems like just so much more of “the current generation of young folks doesn’t do it right” kind of stuff. Your headline calls to my mind the animatronic parrots in Huxley’s Island, always calling the islanders to pay closer attention to, well, everything. In response to age-old problem of lots-of-stuff-happening-around-us, let’s recommend age-old solution of asking for more attention-to-primary-task.

    Which is not to say I disagree with the premise and the need for many people to learn to focus when necessary. I just think that the general behavior in the media around this topic lately suggests that this is a new problem, when frankly, attention to one task at a time for extended periods is not really a strong feature for most primates, let alone humans. It’s evolutionarily sound to be distractible; it is also, as Jackson points up, a cultural function to be able to focus to the exclusion of other stimuli.

    Oh, gotta run and do something else…

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