Bill McKibben's foreword to Maggie Jackson's new book Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age begins with predictable irony:
As I settled down at my desk to write this brief foreword, a light on the computer blinked to indicate that a new e-mail had arrived. This left me with a quandary that by now must afflict most Americans most days of their lives: continue with the train of thought that I'd begun to follow or see who was hailing me and for what purpose.McKibben clicks, replies, talks on the phone with the e-mailer, loses half an hour. And as the foreword ends,
The inbox is flashing again, clamoring for my attention. Loving novelty, I head in its direction; craving depth, I do so with a tinge of regret.I'm puzzled when people who are skeptical users of technology seem unaware that they can prevent at least many digital distractions. Some free advice for Bill McKibben:
1. Turn off automatic e-mail checking and notification. (I'm assuming that the "light on the computer" involves Microsoft Outlook or a similar program.) Check e-mail manually, less frequently.Bill McKibben's quandary need not be a quandary. We already have the means to remove many of the distractions that can come between attention and the digital task at hand.
2. Use distraction-free writing technology. (I'm guessing that McKibben was getting ready to open Microsoft Word.) A text-editor beats Word for composing. Dark Room and WriteRoom are good choices too: in full-screen mode they remove access to other programs. Writing a draft in pencil or pen removes all computer-based distraction.
3. Read Mark Hurst's book Bit Literacy: Productivity in the Age of Information and E-mail Overload. One reason McKibben is distracted: Jackson's book offers no practical advice for managing digital claims on our attention. Hurst's book does.
Two related posts
Driven to distraction
Review of Bit Literacy