Thursday, August 14, 2008

Free advice for Bill McKibben

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.

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.
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.

Two related posts
Driven to distraction
Review of Bit Literacy

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