Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Three new books and the notion of distraction

I am in the process of reading three new books that I ordered independently of each other and then realized that they are all connected. The two first are:

Matthew Crawford's "The world beyond your head -- on becoming an individual in an age of distraction" and

Peter Korn "Why we make things and why it matters -- the education of a craftsman".

The third takes a more business or management perspective.

Daniel Goleman "Focus -- the hidden driver of excellence"

Even though the three authors have radically different backgrounds and perspectives they all end up discussing the kind of activities that humans can engage in that lead to a sense of well-being, identity, and self-understanding. What all of them see as a serious contemporary societal problem can be summarized with the notion of distraction or the lack of attention and focus.

Crawford write: "Our changing technological environment generates a need for ever more stimulation. The content of
the stimulation almost becomes irrelevant. Our distractibility seems to indicate that we are agnostic on the question of what is worth paying attention to--that is, what to value" (p 5).

It is obvious that the problem these authors see with distraction and peoples inability to focus is partially blamed on technology. Technology has led to environments that constantly request our attention and distracts us from reflection and attention to our own inner life and behavior.

So, what is the solution? Well, there are some recurring themes in these books. For instance, they all discuss the importance of being able to attend to objects and things, to be able to discern quality, and to be able to appreciate it. They also discuss the need for concrete hands-on skills and practices and the importance of materials. They also discuss how attention and focus has to do with spending time with things and people. They also express the importance of the everyday and the ordinary.

Ok, since I have not read the book enough I should not continue this interpretation of them. I need to read them more closely. However, it is obvious that we, as a society, is facing some serious issues that these authors among others are now trying to formulate. There may not be any proposals of general solutions, for instance, we can probably not all become craftsmen in the sense that Peter Korn describes as the solution, but these books at least constitute attempts of framing something that is an emerging problem. Maybe it is the case that increased interactivity leads to a situation where we can't focus anymore, maybe we lose our ability of paying close attention. If so, then those of us involved in developing new interactive technology have to pay attention.

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