Saturday, August 27, 2011

Squirrel! (from the movie "Up")

Google News today included a link to this 2009 article:

written by Sam Anderson of New York Magazine entitled "In Defense of Distraction".  Like the author, I have my doubts about predictions of death, destruction and dumbness from modern internet and computer/electronic-related machines and activities.  The article is very well written and I recommend it.

It refers to Winifred Gallagher's book "Rapt", which I have on my Kindle.  She has used being conscious of what she attends to as the main tool for weathering frightening breast cancer.  She quotes William James that one's experience is what one chooses to pay attention to.  

Anderson thinks about what gets our attention these days, especially electronically.  It is hard for me to find his level of writing quality.  Take a look at this opening:

I'm going to pause here, right at the beginning of my riveting article about attention, and ask you to please get all of your precious 21st-century distractions out of your system now. Check the score of the Mets game; text your sister that pun you just thought of about her roommate's new pet lizard ("iguana hold yr hand LOL get it like Beatles"); refresh your work e-mail, your home e-mail, your school e-mail; upload pictures of yourself reading this paragraph to your "me reading magazine articles" Flickr photostream; and alert the fellow citizens of whatever Twittertopia you happen to frequent that you will be suspending your digital presence for the next twenty minutes or so (I know that seems drastic: Tell them you're having an appendectomy or something and are about to lose consciousness). Good. Now: Count your breaths. Close your eyes. Do whatever it takes to get all of your neurons lined up in one direction. Above all, resist the urge to fixate on the picture, right over there, of that weird scrambled guy typing. Do not speculate on his ethnicity (German-Venezuelan?) or his backstory (Witness Protection Program?) or the size of his monitor. Go ahead and cover him with your hand if you need to. There. Doesn't that feel better? Now it's just you and me, tucked like fourteenth-century Zen masters into this sweet little nook of pure mental focus. (Seriously, stop looking at him. I'm over here.)

He raises some very intelligent questions later in the article, including one that asks if in future years, we will be working on those people who can't move their attention around.  He asks if we will be treating them for a disorder:

The deep focusers might even be hampered by having too much attention: Attention Surfeit Hypoactivity Disorder.

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