“At painful times, when composition is impossible and reading is not enough, grammars and dictionaries are excellent for distraction,” the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote, in 1839. Those were the days. Browning is still right, of course: ask any reader of Wikipedia or Urban Dictionary. She sounds anachronistic only because no modern person needs advice about how to be distracted. Like typing, Googling, and driving, distraction is now a universal competency. We’re all experts.
Still, for all our expertise, distraction retains an aura of mystery. It’s hard to define: it can be internal or external, habitual or surprising, annoying or pleasurable. It’s shaped by power: where a boss sees a distracted employee, an employee sees a controlling boss. Often, it can be useful: my dentist, who used to be a ski instructor, reports that novice skiers learn better if their teachers, by talking, distract them from the fact that they are sliding down a mountain. (He’s an expert distractor in his current job, too; the last time he cleaned my teeth, he hummed all of “You Make Loving Fun,” including the guitar solo.) There are, in short, varieties of distracted experience. It’s hard to generalize about such a changeable phenomenon.
Another source of confusion is distraction’s apparent growth. There are two big theories about why it’s on the rise. The first is material: it holds that our urbanized, high-tech society is designed to distract us. In 1903, the German sociologist Georg Simmel argued, in an influential essay called “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” that in the tech-saturated city “stimulations, interests, and the taking up of time and attention” turn life into “a stream which scarcely requires any individual efforts for its ongoing.” (In the countryside, you have to entertain yourself.) One way to understand the distraction boom, therefore, is in terms of the spread of city life: not only has the world grown more urban, but digital devices let us bring citylike experiences with us wherever we go.
The second big theory is spiritual—it’s that we’re distracted because our souls are troubled. The comedian Louis C.K. may be the most famous contemporary exponent of this way of thinking. A few years ago, on “Late Night” with Conan O’Brien, he argued that people are addicted to their phones because “they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.” (David Foster Wallace also saw distraction this way.) The spiritual theory is even older than the material one: in 1874, Nietzsche wrote that “haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself”; in the seventeenth century, Pascal said that “all men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” In many ways, of the two, the material theory is more reassuring. If the rise of distraction is caused by technology, then technology might reverse it, while if the spiritual theory is true then distraction is here to stay. It’s not a competition, though; in fact, these two problems could be reinforcing each other. Stimulation could lead to ennui, and vice versa.
A version of that mutual-reinforcement theory is more or less what Matthew Crawford proposes in his new book, “The World Beyond Your Head: Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction” (Farrar, Straus & Giroux). Crawford is a philosopher whose last book, “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” proposed that working with your hands could be an antidote to the sense of uselessness that haunts many knowledge workers. (Kelefa Sanneh reviewed it for this magazine, in 2007.) Crawford argues that our increased distractibility is the result of technological changes that, in turn, have their roots in our civilization’s spiritual commitments. Ever since the Enlightenment, he writes, Western societies have been obsessed with autonomy, and in the past few hundred years we have put autonomy at the center of our lives, economically, politically, and technologically; often, when we think about what it means to be happy, we think of freedom from our circumstances. Unfortunately, we’ve taken things too far: we’re now addicted to liberation, and we regard any situation—a movie, a conversation, a one-block walk down a city street—as a kind of prison. Distraction is a way of asserting control; it’s autonomy run amok. Technologies of escape, like the smartphone, tap into our habits of secession.
The way we talk about distraction has always been a little self-serving—we say, in the passive voice, that we’re “distracted by” the Internet or our cats, and this makes us seem like the victims of our own decisions. But Crawford shows that this way of talking mischaracterizes the whole phenomenon. It’s not just that we choose our own distractions; it’s that the pleasure we get from being distracted is the pleasure of taking action and being free. There’s a glee that comes from making choices, a contentment that settles after we’ve asserted our autonomy. When you write an essay in Microsoft Word while watching, in another window, an episode of “American Ninja Warrior”—trust me, you can do this—you’re declaring your independence from the drudgery of work. When you’re waiting to cross the street and reach to check your e-mail, you’re pushing back against the indignity of being made to wait. Distraction is appealing precisely because it’s active and rebellious.
Needless to say, not all distractions are self-generated; the world is becoming ever more saturated with ads. And this, Crawford thinks, has turned distraction into a contest between corporate power and individual will. In the airport, for example, we listen to music through headphones to avoid listening to CNN. There’s a sense, he argues, in which personal-technology companies are in an arms race with advertising and marketing firms. If you go to the movies and turn off your phone prematurely, you may be stuck watching the pre-preview ads—but, if you have an Apple Watch, you can still assert your autonomy by scrolling through lists and checking your step count. Fundamentally, of course, the two sides are indistinguishable: they both speak in what Crawford calls “autonomy talk,” “the consumerist language of preference satisfaction,” in which consumer choice is identified with liberation and happiness. “Choice serves as the central totem of consumer capitalism, and those who present choices to us appear as handmaidens to our own freedom,” he writes.
We are now cocooned, Crawford argues, within centuries’ worth of technology designed to insure our autonomy—the smartphone just represents the innermost layer. If you check Twitter from your tablet computer while watching “Game of Thrones” on demand, or listen to Spotify while working on a spreadsheet in your cubicle, than you’re taking advantage of many technologies of autonomy at once. A central irony of modern life, Crawford writes, is that even within our cocoons the “cultural imperative of being autonomous” is as strong as ever. That imperative depends on the “identification of freedom with choice, where choice is understood as a pure flashing forth of the unconditioned will” (a click, a scroll, a tap). Despite the revolutionary rhetoric of technology companies, we’re less like revolutionaries than like gamblers in a casino. A gambler experiences winning and losing; he takes risks and makes fateful choices. But he does all this inside a “highly engineered environment,” and his experiences are mere simulacra of what they would be outside of it. Just as ironic winning—winning that is, in the long run, losing—is at the center of the gambler’s life, so ironic freedom—action that is actually distraction—has become a “style of existence” for the modern person.
Given the extremity of his vision, you half expect Crawford to propose a radical solution: Burn it all down! Dismantle the Matrix! But his suggestions turn out to be humbler. “The image of human excellence I would like to offer as a counterweight to freedom thus understood,” he writes, “is that of a powerful, independent mind working at full song.” “Working” is the key word. Much of “The World Beyond Your Head” is about people who do work to which they can’t help but pay attention: short-order cooks, hockey players, motorcycle racers, glassblowers. These workers, Crawford writes, endeavor to bring themselves “into a relation of fit” with a demanding world. When a line cook rushes to keep up with new orders, or when a motorcyclist anticipates a patch of slick road, they are simultaneously “limited and energized” by the constraints they encounter. (There’s little solace in the book for committed office workers; Crawford himself has foregone a traditional academic career to run a business that manufactures custom motorcycle parts.) The point is that these workers, who are immersed in what they do, are not really autonomous; instead, they are keyed into the real world (the demanding kitchen, the unpredictable road). They aren’t living in their heads, but sensing the grip of the tires on the asphalt, the heat of the flames at the grill. “Joy is the feeling of one’s powers increasing,” he writes. Distraction is the opposite of joy, which becomes rarer as we spend more time in a frictionless environment of easy and trivial digital choices.
“The World Beyond Your Head” is insightful and, in parts, convincing. Its problem, ironically, is one of focus. Crawford ends up seeing pretty much all of modern life as a source of distraction. Conversely, he appears satisfied only while developing a narrow range of manly skills. And he overstates the power of what is, for the most part, a merely annoying aspect of contemporary life. He’s not alone in this: many writers on distraction present it as an existential cataclysm. A previous and influential book on the subject, by the journalist Maggie Jackson, was called “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age.”
Why do so many writers find distraction so scary? The obvious answer is that they’re writers. For them, more than for other people, distraction really is a clear and present danger. Before writing “Shop Class as Soulcraft,” Crawford earned a Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Chicago. Distraction is even scarier for graduate students; a few years spent working on a dissertation leaves you primed to fear and loathe it out of all proportion.
More generally, distraction is scary for another, complementary reason: the tremendous value that we’ve come to place on attending. The modern world valorizes few things more than attention. It demands that we pay attention at school and at work; it punishes parents for being inattentive; it urges us to be mindful about money, food, and fitness; it celebrates people who command others’ attention. As individuals, we derive a great deal of meaning from the products of sustained attention and concentration—from the projects we’ve completed, the relationships we’ve maintained, the commitments we’ve upheld, the skills we’ve mastered. Life often seems to be “about” paying attention—and the general trend seems to be toward an ever more attentive way of life. Behind the crisis of distraction, in short, there is what amounts to a crisis of attention: the more valuable and in demand attention becomes, the more problematic even innocuous distractions seem to be. (Judging by self-help books, distraction and busyness have become the Scylla and Charybdis of modern existence.)
As with our autonomy obsession, this extreme valuing of attention is a legacy of the Enlightenment: the flip side of Descartes’s “I think, therefore I am” is that we are what we think about. The problem with this conception of selfhood is that people don’t spend all their time thinking in an organized, deliberate way. Our minds wander, and life is full of meaningless moments. Whole minutes go by during which you listen to Rihanna in your head, or look idly at people’s shoes, or remember high school. Sometimes, your mind is just a random jumble of images, sensations, sounds, recollections; at other times, you can stare out the window and think about nothing. This kind of distracted time contributes little to the project of coherent selfhood, and can even seem to undermine it. Where are you when you play Temple Run? Who are you when you look at cat GIFs? If you are what you think about, then what are you when your thoughts don’t add up to anything? Getting distracted, from this perspective, is like falling asleep. It’s like hitting pause on selfhood.
What is to be done about this persistent non-self, or anti-self? You can double down, of course, and attempt, as Crawford does, to sculpt a better you—one in which distraction is replaced with attention. Or you can try, as various people have, to reconceive the self in a way that makes sense of distracted time. Freud, for instance, offered an interpretation of the mind’s apparent randomness. The Surrealists tried to make art out of it. Variousphilosophers have argued that the self is less coherent than we think it should be. My favorite approach is the one James Joyce took, in “Ulysses”: he just accepted this non-self, in a “no judgment” kind of way. In “Ulysses,” the characters are always distracted. They hum songs in their heads, long for food, have idle sex fantasies. Because they don’t feel guilty about this, they never remark upon it. In fact, they hardly ever feel bad about the thoughts in their heads.
For Leopold Bloom, joy isn’t the feeling of his powers increasing—a rather strange way of defining joy, to my ears. Joy is a kinky kiss in the grass with his wife, Molly, during which she passes a chewed piece of cake from her mouth to his. (“Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed ... Joy: I ate it: joy.”) From time to time, this joyful moment—which is pretty strange, too, of course—just pops into Bloom’s mind. Why fight it? That’s how people are. Their minds drift. “Ulysses” regards the deliberate, focussed, attending mind, with its useful plans, thoughts, and skills, as just a part of the self. Our distracted thoughts are part of us, too.
Over the past few weeks, as I read Crawford’s solemn prescriptions for the elimination of distraction, it occurred to me that we might have everything backward. What if, in fact, we’re not very good at being distracted? What if we actually don’t value distraction enough?** **It may be that, with our mobile games and Twitter feeds and YouTube playlists, we’ve allowed distraction to become predictable and repetitive, manageable and organized, dull and boring—too much, in short, like work. If “Ulysses” were written today, Bloom would probably be checking his phone, but I doubt he could Google anything better than what’s already in his mind. We should grow more comfortable with our unfocussed selves, and, instead of repudiating them, reclaim them. Twitter can’t compete with uncensored memory. Facebook has nothing on that kiss.
Technology Distractions In Education Essay
Times are forever changing, and things in life is constantly evolving to something better or something more efficient ,especially technology. College campuses are overflowing with students packing Blackberry,iPod's, laptops and cellphones. College student are obsessed with the latest technology and in today classroom such technology's capture the audience. Moreover, as a learning institution, a college hold's the responsibility to offer it's student the best technology to help them prepare for their future. In “Facing the Facebook” written by Micheal Bugeja the professor examines the ethical and educational effect of the time student spend online. In addition, technology could be undermining the educational goal of critical thinking while inspiring multitasking,which cause “as much of a distraction as a tool.” Social networks like Facebook contribute to the distractions while in class. However, the learning process for student has changed dramatically, plus, technology is used in many aspect for teaching. With the amount knowledge that student are required to retain, technology can add convenience, confidence and skill's to aid in the learning process and life.
Having technology as a tool for college brings convenience to students. Most colleges professor's require student to submit reports which play's a major part of their overall grade. In addition, resources like the internet are use to obtain information need for projects and reports. Instead of rigorous research being done in the library, the internet is utilized as a research tool from the comfort of a home or dorm. Futhermore, Student are able to send emails to teacher to obtain quick answer while studying and also submit report when they are complete. Certainly, information technology open up prospects for a form for learning that can be customizes to students. For example, online classes which offer's student the convenience of attending class anywhere, at anytime, 24/7, as long as there is an available computer and access to the internet. This flexibility allows students to continue their current lifestyle with minimal disruptions. Also, the laptop allow student to take more ameliorate,organized. and quicker notes when used in class. Certainly, these are effective skills to obtain for today's job market.
There is not a job today that does not use a computer for something,we can agree that in order to be successful one must be proficient in the use of technology, specifically computers. This means that any student that does not know the essential like e-mails, word...
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