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The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  720 ratings  ·  96 reviews
Why our brains aren't built for media multitasking, and how we can learn to live with technology in a more balanced way.Brilliant and practical, just what we need in these techno-human times.--Jack Kornfield, author of The Wise Heart

Most of us will freely admit that we are obsessed with our devices. We pride ourselves on our ability to multitask--read work email, reply to
Paperback, 302 pages
Published October 27th 2017 by MIT Press (first published 2016)
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Average rating 3.74  · 
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Brian Clegg
I would be more comfortable with the opening words of The Distracted Mind 'This book is the first of its kind to explore the daily challenges we face with the highly engaging but extremely distracting high-tech world we now inhabit' if I hadn't read The Cyber Effect a few months ago. Admittedly Distracted Mind's intro goes on 'from the dual points of view of a psychologist and a neuroscientist', where The Cyber Effect was by a lone 'cyberpsychologist'... but to be honest it's the quality of the ...more
It might be more fair to give this book 3 stars, but I am currently feeling betrayed by fellow scientists, so it's 2.
I wouldn't not recommend this book; it's interesting and informative, not to mention very relevant. It covers human cognitive limitations, and then how we can't actually handle juggling the tech we surround ourselves with (internet, social media, and messaging especially), despite expecting otherwise. There's no such thing as true multitasking, and since we have now moved into a w
Dec 25, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Would have liked more tips on how to solve the issue. Authors backed up their assertion that the mind struggles with all the inputs but I didn't need 200 pages of convincing on that. ...more
Oct 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Have you noticed how many people are looking at their smartphones while walking, crossing the street or even driving? Does it drive you up the wall that your friends keep checking their phones while you're trying to talk to them or share a meal? Our addiction to gadgets and gizmos has brought us to the brink of an attention crisis, which is not just harmful but dangerous. 80% of all car accidents and 16% of highway deaths result from distracted driving, and every year texting while driving kills ...more
Jake McCrary
Probably unfortunately for this review, I read the first part and then set it down as I got distracted by other books. I finally picked it back up and finished the second two parts.

A fair number of books I've read deal with related topics. How does the modern world affect our ability to focus and interactions with others? How can we focus on tasks better?

The book presents information on how distractions affect us. It adapts the marginal value theorem (MVT) model to explain why we task switch so
Jul 13, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
My distracted mind could not finish this book. Imagine your most boring science teacher ever. The content is good and could be interesting if there was ANY personality in the writing.
Kyle van Oosterum
An exceptional study of the psychology of technology, i.e.: how our ancient brains cannot deal with the high tech world. The authors delve into our fundamentally limited capacity and how technology exacerbates and manipulates us with its multitasking flexibility, bombarding notifications and so forth. Gazzaley and Rosen cite numerous studies with shocking statistics about the impact of technology on our relationships, working life and everyday tasks. Such examples include how drunk driving and t ...more
Chuck Barber
I heard these guys interviewed on radio, and they were interesting, so I read the book. The first part, which is more technical regarding the inner workings of the brain are a bit of a chore to get through...and could be skipped. The second and third parts, which are more practical, address problems of distraction and strategies to better cope with distraction. Overall, an interesting read. Now put down that cellphone and get back to work!
Stephen Case
The Distracted Mind (always capitalized in this study of the same name) refers to our current state of affairs due to both our neurological makeup and our current use of technology. The authors—a psychologist and a neuroscientist—address the problem of our distractions from three angles. First, they want to explain our chronic distraction neurologically (why we’re wired to be so easily distracted) and socially (how our technology is changing us and exacerbating the problem). Finally, they want t ...more
Azam Heydari
I think for most people reading the last two chapters can provide with the practical benefits. Very lengthy and overall not an enjoyable style of writing but it is useful.
Feng Ouyang
This book discusses the distractions in our daily lives, especially from electronic devices. The discussions are based on a novel theory, the marginal value theory (MVT). It says that as our ancestors foraging for food, we forage for information among multiple sources. We move from one source to another to increase our marginal intake (intake at the unit time). The decision to switch depends on two things. One is the value of the current source, which is supposed to deplete as we stay longer. Th ...more
Jun 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
tl/dr review:
I thought I would hate this book but I didn't.

longer review:
Based on the subtitle ("Ancient Brains in a Hi-Tech World"), I was wary of this book but pleasantly surprised by the extremely thorough, competent, carefully-referenced review of the cognitive neuroscience of the many different systems underlying both focus and distraction. I also loved that the take-home recommendations weren't tech avoidance or hand-wringing nostalgia for past times (like certain other books that recomm
Deni Jane
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you want to know more about the limitations of your brain, that's your book. We are kind of brainwashed into believing that the brain has unlimited power to handle information, but the truth is, it doesn't. The book explains to great length how signals who use the same resource make the brain slow down or freeze and I think that's the greatest take away from the book - multi-tasking is a myth, and even if we can train to multi-task somewhat, if we want something done and done well, we need to ...more
Jun 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
I appreciated the accessible and thorough way that the authors explained how our brains work in order to best illuminate the potential impacts of technologies on us. That said, I often found myself feeling distracted by the length of some of their explanations. Perhaps this means I'm an exemplar of what they aim to expose, but I actually think it's because I didn't need to be convinced of the science behind their findings, what I actually craved more of was what came in part 3: the cure. ...more
May 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exceptionally clear explanation of cognitive controls, specifically attention, working memory, and goal management, followed by cogent analysis of the impacts - and distractions - of today's pervasive technology environment. ...more
Aviad Eilam
Good overview of some basic topics in human cognition and how modern technology interacts with them, but I was hoping for something a bit more conversational and engaging in the tradition of, say, Steven Pinker.
May 14, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Useful info that calls us on our distractions. A lot of science, not a lot of tips to modify habits.
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Somewhat dry but really important read. Last chapter sums most of it up. It gave some ideas and solutions, but I wanted more.
Bianca Liebhaber
May 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A bit redundant but still an interesting message overall.
Ryan Chong
I first heard of Adam Gazzaley from Tim Ferris's interview with him. There are some fantastic description about the research he is doing at his Gazzaley Lab and he seems like a genuinely good fellow that is serious about curing the main issue with current technologically fueled generation: attention deficit.

However, although the intention is good, but as I read the book, I cannot help but feel that it would be better with some help from a journalist or other writers with non-fiction pedigree. T
Apr 17, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Great information, occasionally stiff writing that made it slow to read. Still, I got through it and learned a lot about why technology is ruining our minds.

There are lots of hysterical "sky is falling" demonizations of social media and our device, but this book is by the book as far sharing insights backed by research.

The big takeaway is that the information firehose delivered by the combination of the Internet/social media and our smartphones is hijacking our foraging instincts. We forage for
Tom Brainerd
I finished this a while ago, but didn't post that in Goodreads. I guess I was distracted.

As a believer in the Living God and, by extension, the truths of the Bible, getting through the abject evolutionist Darwinism of the first part of the book was kind of a slog. During that part of the book the interesting part of reading is seeing how very wide of the truth the authors are.

The latter part of the book is pretty interesting. It provides a fair amount of researched information about the nature o
Jun 24, 2020 rated it liked it
This book is really not the best written - and is especially trying at the very start. Perhaps you get used to their style as the book progresses... if you have the persistence.

The first section - exploring the cognitive psychology of attention and goal-oriented behaviour - is the worst written. The combination of jargon and stilted examples gets in the way of enjoying the content of the argument, or appreciating the evidence being stacked up piece by piece. The authors do eventually make a reas
Frans Saxén
This is a thought provoking book on the impacts of modern technology on our ancient, distracted minds. The authors, a psychologist and a neuroscientist, walks the reader thru a series of studies showing the detrimental impact of the constant interruptions that our technology imposes on us. A blinking logo here, a red badge there, all asking for our immediate attention, just for a second we promise, then you can go back to doing whatever you were doing. The problem is that it takes us far longer ...more
Connor Henley
Mar 13, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned a surprising amount of neuroscience and cognitive psychology from this book, and I’d guess that the fundamentals covered in the early chapters were all the more interesting because they were related to my daily experience with distractions from the internet and from my smartphone.

The last couple chapters offered both general and very specific advice for mitigating these distractions (even recommending specific apps to download), which I found very helpful and have already put to use.

Stiltzkin Vanserine
Aug 06, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: science
This book starts slow, like the dying embers of a morning fireplace, but then picks up its pace and reaches the plateau of awesomeness. It provides detailed scientific knowledge on the workings of the human encephalon (which is basically a fancy word for "brain") and explains how modern technology is hijacking our biological instincts and fragmenting our attention.

See, attention has become the currency of the current Internet age. Social media tools such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are s
Robby Allsopp
Aug 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Its not a page turner, but it is jammed with helpful science. Read if you want a pretty deep understanding of what unhealthy things we might be doing to our brains with social media and other iThings. The book also give suggestions on how to combat unhealthy behaviors (spoiler alert, exercise! But there are some other interesting tidbits...). One thing I did not like was how eye-rollingly codger-like the authors are about smartphone use and kids these days always looking at their cellphones at t ...more
Lots of fascinating statistics about how the distraction of the high-tech world is not just affecting our lives but is actually changing the entire society (and our brains), mostly in a negative way. The book seems occasionally redundant, and the suggestions at the end are OK but might have been developed further. Still, I'm glad I read it. I used the book’s stats for a presentation during a getaway with my students (to good effect). I think the book is a good companion, one piece of a puzzle, w ...more
Wee Meng Lee
Mar 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Based on the facts, I think Dr Adam has great explanation to the mechanisms in our brain functioning that let us addicted to the advanced technology around us. By using the MVT model around his book, he comes up with ideas to help curb this multi-tasking and FOMO phenomenon that leads to us being less productive.

In the first few chapters, those who are first-time readers into psychology will be quite abstract to know the vital parts of the brain that gets influenced by using smartphones, the In
Pat Hodge
Nov 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book, with the right blend of science and explanation for the lay reader. Besides being horrified at the exponential growth of distracted minds since the invention of the internet, and at the thought of all the distracted minds driving vehicles, flying planes, doing surgery, etc., there were very well explained methods described to assist all of us to minimize distractions. The section devoted to the effects of
the distracted student mind on cognitive function should be required
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