Quick Post, I Want to Get Back to Work: "Distracted from Distraction by Distraction"

This article is most certainly alarmist, but has a few points worth considering:

  • To what degree are attentiveness and being distracted physiological conditions? The author claims that knowledge of the brain tells us that if you’re driving, and someone is describing something over the phone that requires you to visualize it, a “visual channel” will get “clogged” and you could “lose your sense of the road.”
  • More to the point: does this article rely on a conception of “attention = good” and “distraction (or anything that isn’t strictly “attention”) = evil?”
  • Something about the metaphors used to describe what’s wrong with Facebook and Myspace in this article doesn’t strike me as entirely credible. The primary complaint is that one goes there for “gossip and social banter,” but then one makes “friends” that not only aren’t real, but could be dismissed with a simple click even if they do offer something worthwhile. I don’t know why this doesn’t resonate with me, but I will offer this: twice I have met people purely online to whom I gave an enormous amount of knowledge and got zilch for it. Both were traditionalist Catholics of the “Latin Mass FTW’ variety (ironically enough – neither were affiliated with UD in any way). They were the only ones to never give anything of any worth to me or even acknowledge my existence after a short while (in their defense: I do accept prayers, and could be wrong about how much they’ve forgotten me). I think the author might be underestimating just how cold and self-righteous we would have to be to completely forget about people we meet online, for we’re online ourselves.
  • Towards the end of the article – I’d guess the complaints about kids learning nothing through computer overuse reflect on the kids, not the technology. It is possible to gain an enormous amount of technical expertise online. And any adult who says he doesn’t have the patience for a longer blog post anymore is probably an idiot. He can look in the mirror to figure out where that problem has arisen.


  1. Stop procrastinating and go back to work. All these work avoidance tactics won’t do, you know.


    Interesting blogpost nonetheless. You raise some interesting points. There is an issue there with distraction becoming psychological dissociation. There is a whole bunch of literature on that. Extreme dissociation – as you may be aware, you’re rather well-read after all – comes up in cases of PTSD, especially when there is no chance for a person to “flee or fight” and is rendered helpless. It’s a defensive mechanism of the brain to “switch off” in such extreme cases and ensure the survival of the individual.

    So, clearly there are different gradations of distraction. The question is to what extent online distractions – and arguably the (as my girlfriend calls them sneerily) imaginary friends of facebook/myspace/blogworld stimulates or exarcerbates this cognitive mechanism.

    My own tentative conclusion is that offline living and concerns should always take precedence over online. But that may be a bit Luddite on my part.

    Or the fact that I have a child who needs all my undivided attention back in the real world.

  2. I think about this a LOT, especially from the cognitive psychology point of view. When my laptop was stolen last week I was undeniably disturbed, but the silver lining is that I have been set free and don’t spend all of my waking hours in front of a screen anymore! I read, ride my bike, and do school work a little more. Of course I’ll need to get a computer for school but these few weeks without one are not unappreciated.

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