A few days ago I wrote a piece criticising the arguments of author Maggie Jackson on the effects of digital technology and concentration. The piece garnered some fantastic reader comments, including a thoughtful response from Jackson herself, which I’ve reproduced below:
In my interview with Wired and my book Distracted, I don’t argue that we need to venerate unbending concentration and single-tasking. In fact, that’s a monochromatic Industrial Age vision of attention that I reject! In cultures where work and productivity are now information-based, we do need to hone skills related to multitasking and split-focus, skimming and non-linear reasoning.
But in the US and other tech-centric societies today, we’ve become so reliant on this narrow band of skills that we’ve begun to undermine our ability to go deeply in thought and relations. We’re fragmenting and diffusing our multifaceted attentional abilities – and this is not by any means “progress.”
As for cooking and babies, I’d agree that at any time in history, the environment makes demands on our attention. Attention is in essence how we interact with our environment! But attention is also central to the pursuit of goals, to planning, judgment, vision. The point is, are we using our powers of attention well by cultivating environments of interruption, fragmentation,and skimming, and by losing time/space for reflection, disciplined problem-solving, deep reading?
In short, the “concentration oasis” is a myth I don’t subscribe to. And yet it’s truly short-sighted to fail to consider the costs of cultivating a culture of distraction and inattention.