Monday, August 04, 2008


Just picked up Maggie Jackson’s book, Distracted, which has been getting a lot of discussion this summer (on NPR at least). I've been saying for a while that we need to pay more attention to attention, so I'm glad to see the issues being debated. Might even spur me on to write more about it. Haven’t delved very far into the book [insert cheap Attention Deficit joke here] but did like the following nuanced passage, which nicely balances out the tech and social determinist positions on technology. The state of affairs she’s describing isn’t technology’s fault, but neither is technology blameless.

PowerPoint doesn’t make us dumb, and a judicious use of such slideware likely can help us navigate a world of information overload. I’m not angling for a return to some sort of pastoral, unmechanized Eden in order to halt the erosion of attention. We cannot blame technology for society’s ills. Nor can we fall into the opposite and increasingly commonplace trap of blindly trusting that our new tools will automatically usher us into a glorious new age. The tools we are wholeheartedly embracing today are inherently powerful, and we ignore that truth at our peril. You can use a stick for digging potatoes or stabbing your neighbor, so how you use a stick is important, but equally important is the fact that a stick is not a wheel. It’s crucial that we better understood how our new high-tech tools, from video games to PowerPoint, may be affecting us. Moreover, our tools reflect the values of our times, so it’s no coincidence that PowerPoint is a tool of choice in a world of snippets and sound bites.
p. 21
Maggie Jackson, Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2008.

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