Richard Thompson's Reviews > Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age

Distracted by Maggie Jackson
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M_50x66
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Oct 04, 10

bookshelves: non-fiction

Subtitled: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Ironically, I found the book to be very distracted and distracting. It is possible, of course, that I was simply distracted — but I don’t think so. The introduction starts off well with the suggestion that our ability to pay close and deep attention is severely compromised by television, cell phones, instant messaging, hyermobility and the cascade of options offered to us by the consumer culture and that if we lose the ability to pay attention there will be dire cultural and social consequences — that we will be in danger of descending into a dark age. Unfortunately, (and I may have be distracted when I read that section) Jackson never defines what she means exactly by “dark age”; she does mention at some point late in the book that different people have different ways of defining the term but she never plunks down with her definition. The book is well larded with interesting bits and pieces but Jackson never bothers to mention why those bits and pieces are pertinent to her thesis. With a bit of work, the reader could no doubt untangle the connecting thread, but I think Jackson could have done a better job of that. It might also have been useful if she had given the reader a hint about where she was going before she dashed off in yet another direction: “Our reduced ability to pay attention is partly a commitment issue. Many things in our society tend to make us more suspicious and less trusting. Let me illustrate...” In the last chapter she talks about the hope that a dark age might be averted and outlines research being done on training attention and other mental skills. At points she seems to be arguing that the way to cope a splintered and distracting environment is to train your brain to work faster. Getting rid of your TV and cell phone, sitting down with your family for dinner occasionally, taking a walk, slowing down in general — strategies for actually reducing the amount of distraction that one allows into one’s environment — seem to be either impossible or undesirable in her world view.
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