The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age
Publication Date: September 2009
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Do you text during family dinners or read e-mails during meetings? Does your spouse learn about your day from Facebook? Do you get news about the world by scanning online headlines while also doing something else? Welcome to the land of distraction. Despite our wondrous technologies and scientific advances, we are nurturing a culture of diffusion, fragmentation, and detachment. Our attention is scattered among the beeps and pings of a push-button world. We are less and less able to pause, reflect, and deeply connect.
In Distracted, journalist Maggie Jackson ponders our increasingly cyber-centric world and fears we’re entering a dark age of interruption that will render us unable to think critically, work creatively or cultivate meaningful relationships. Jackson warns of what can happen when we lose our ability to sustain focus and erode our capacity for deep attention—the building block of intimacy, wisdom, and cultural progress. The implications for a healthy society are stark. Societal ADD will adversely affect parenting, marriages, personal safety, education and even democracy. And yet we can recover our powers of focus through a renaissance of attention. 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. In her sweeping quest to unravel the nature of attention and detail its losses, Jackson offers us a compelling wake-up call, an adventure story, and reasons for hope. Put down your smart phone and prepare for an eye-opening journey. We can—and must—learn to focus attention in this Twitter culture.
Bill McKibben is American author of a dozen books about the environment, beginning with The End of Nature in 1989, which is regarded as the first book for a general audience on climate change. He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. Time Magazine called him "the planet's best green journalist," and the Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was "probably the country's most important environmentalist." McKibben is a frequent contributor to various magazines including The New York Times, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, Orion Magazine, Mother Jones, The New York Review of Books, Granta, Rolling Stone, and Outside. He is also a board member and contributor to Grist Magazine. McKibben has been awarded Guggenheim and Lyndhurst Fellowships, and won the Lannan Prize for nonfiction writing in 2000. He is a scholar in residence at Middlebury College.