Here’s a few other links carrying on from yesterday’s post about Nick Carr’s lament that Google and the web in general have made it harder for us to pay attention to books.
Howard Rheingold links to a post on Timothy Ferriss’s blog, by Josh Waitzkin, titled “the multitasking virus.” Waitzkin paints a scene in which listless college students shop on their laptops while their professor’s giving an inspired lecture on Gandhi and nonviolent civil disobedience.
Howard, ever the intelligent pragmatist, says he’s most interested in “engaging students in learning how to train their attention.” He’s right. Most of us, today, could use some serious and rigorous training in attention-focusing skills. Meditation is probably the best. Organizational tools can help, too. Whatever works for you. Howard used to urge people to “pay attention to what you’re paying attention to,” and that was good advice; today we also need to pay attention to how we’re paying attention.
It’s undeniable that the web and all its tools add to the volume of potential interruptions in the workday. There’s nothing new about the interruptions themselves, and we faced them long before we had computers on our desks. (My reading of the Waitzkin post, for instance, was interrupted by an unsolicited telemarketing phone call which, however noble the cause — the American Cancer Society — constituted a far more severe violation of my focus than anything my computer screen can throw at me.) But the Net gives anyone with a proclivity for procrastination a nearly infinite number of options to avoid doing whatever one Must Get Done.
This topic is only going to become more urgent. Today’s Wall Street Journal included a review of a new book, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, which I just ordered (it’s by a writer named Maggie Jackson, and has a foreword by my friend Bill McKibben). I’ll look forward to reading the book when I get it. (I hope it’s better than the hilariously overwrought subtitle.)
In the meantime, I should say that the Journal reviewer, David Robinson, lost me when he declared that Twitter is “an update service devoted to what-are-you-doing-at-this-moment inanity.” Sure, there are plenty of Twitter users who are inane, but — after a period in which I couldn’t quite get what all the fuss was about — I’m finding my small-but-growing group of people-who-I-follow to be a valuable source of real-time Web pointers. Like any popular Web platform, Twitter is as bad or as good as whatever sliver of it you choose to pay attention to.
Right about now is where I should say that I heard about Howard’s post itself because he posted about it on Twitter.
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