Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Myth of Concentration vs. Digital Distraction

Via Mind Hacks:
The myth of the concentration oasis:

Wired has an interview with author Maggie Jackson who's recently written a book called 'Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age' in which she argues modern life and digital technology constantly demand our attention and are consequently damaging our ability to concentrate and be creative. The trouble is, I just don't buy it and it's easy to see why.

The 'modern technology is hurting our brain' argument is widespread but it seems so short-sighted. It's based on the idea that before digital communication technology came along, people spent their time focusing on single tasks for hours on end and were rarely distracted.

The trouble is, it's plainly rubbish, and you just have to spend time with some low tech communities to see this is the case.

In some of the poorer neighbourhoods MedellĂ­n, my current city of residence, there is no electricity. In these barrios, computers, the internet, and even washing machines and telephones don't exist in the average home.

Pretty much everything is done manually. By the lights of the 'driven to digital distraction' argument, the residents should be able to live blissfully focused distraction-free lives, but they don't.

If you think twitter is an attention magnet, try living with an infant. Kids are the most distracting thing there is and when you have three of even four in the house it is both impossible to focus on one thing, and stressful, because the consequences of not keeping an eye on your kids can be frightening even to think about.

The manual nature of all the tasks means you have to watch everything. There is no timer on the cooker, so you need to watch the food. The washing has to be done, by hand, while keeping an eye on everything else.


An excellent counter-argument, this article points out many of the things that have long bothered me about the critiques of digital lives and digital distraction. After reading it occurs to me that, once again, class and gender have been ignored in those critiques, and that an assumption is made that regards our past ways of living as somewhat idealized.


At February 25, 2009 at 11:16 AM, Anonymous Bjoern Rennhak said...

Hi, I just stumbled over your blog entry and came to a different conclusion as you regarding this whole digital age distraction thing. If you are interested, please find my blog post here:

New technology makes us unhappy and studpid?



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