Friday, July 9, 2010


Lately, I've felt myself to be out of whack.  My schedule has been off and I've slid into a bad habit of watching too many videos on Netflix during the kids naptime.  It's one of those times when I know what the best thing is to do, but I'm just not making myself do it.  What I need to do is turn off the computer, go outside, sit on the porch, and read a book or work in my garden.  I need to seek peace and calm instead of avoiding the silence by losing myself in the television shows I watch.

Recently, my husband suggested a book for me to read.  It was Distracted by Maggie Jackson.  I began reading it.  This book is very different than the books I usually review.  It is a sociological and at times psychological analysis of our attention span and some of our cultural habits as a people.  

The premise of this book is (in my words) that the rise of technology in our world is contributiong to a decline in our ability to focus and pay attention.  Our relationships and learning are suffering because of it.  So, is all of the technology in our world really progress?  Is this the progress we want?

From the beginning, this book really made me think.  My husband and I have chosen not to text and instead we have prepaid cell phones.  We aren't gamers and we don't go into chat rooms.  We are very low tech in many ways.  Even so, I've realized how often I check my email and facebook and how much time has gotten sucked away by me watching shows online.  I've even started to have eerie and surreal thoughts about what is real and what is virtual.  I've caught myself at times thinking about how I would describe something on Facebook.  This really concerned me when I saw this in myself.  Essentially, my attention span is being split and is declining.  I am distracted from what I really need to do and what is most worth investing my time in.

Reading this book reinforced some of the things I have seen in myself on a micro level and have been concerned for our society about on a macro level.  Texting is really only the tip of the iceberg and this book opened my eyes to a lot of things that are going on that I didn't even realize.  For example, Maggie Jackson quoted a study that found that 20% of the players on EverQuest "say that they consider themselves denizens of the game who are just visiting Earth." Distracted, p. 56.  Wow!  Truly, the virtual world has taken hold.  It is seeming more real to many people than the life they are really living in person.

Here are a few quotes that hit me the most from this book:

"Freud had an experience when he was outside with a crowd watching a slide show and he wrote this about it 'Until 9 p.m., I remain spellbound, then I begin to feel too lonely in the crowd, so I return to my room to write to you all.'"

On the next page, she writes "Now we slip easily in and out of virtual worlds and multitask each other, wondering if our seemingly miraculous power to be in many places at once brings us closer or keeps us apart...Increasingly, we sense that crucial aspects of our humanity, our ability to focus, be aware, and reason well--may be eroding, even as we surrender to the dreamlike joyride that this way of life offers.  Now it's time to confront the challenges of our day.  Does intimacy survive a seemingly limitless realm of infinite prospects?  Can we bolster the quality of our life by split-screen living?  How do lives of perpetual movement shape our attachments to each other and change our experience of place?  Facing these challenges leads us first into the "new room" in the house, the virtual space where the lights are always on." from pg. 42-43 of Distracted

A few months ago, I read Nurture Shock on the recommendation of a friend and was very challenged and encouraged by it.  Both that book and this one are written from a secular perspective (which I would define as one not concerned with God).  In a similar way to Nurture Shock, Distracted has challenged my thinking and how I see the world we live in.  It is also challenging to me to consider the role that I desire technology to have in my children's lives.  

I live intentionally in a way hoping to glorify God in how I live my life.  So, although this book is not concerned with God, it does encourage me in how I seek to glorify God by not "needing" technology or becoming entrapped by it.

I highly recommend this book.  The writing is good (as you can see from the quotes), though at times very intellectual.  But, it is worth pressing on and taking your time to get through.  The parts I learned the most from were in the first half.  There is a large section in the second half that is about a study involving Buddhism and attention.  Buddhism is written about as a behavior/lifestyle rather than as a religion.  

One last quote I think is worth pondering:
"If we want to shape our own future, we must consider how we want to live and how we want to define progress, and as we do so, prepare to welcome to our ranks the thinking person's most prickly yet necessary companion-doubt."  from Distracted by Maggie Jackson, pg. 215

Please note that I was provided with a complimentary copy of this book for review by Prometheus Books.

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