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A New Theory of Distraction (newyorker.com)
50 points by danboarder on June 17, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 8 comments



I find a type of creative freedom in allowing myself to be 'distracted' and interested in many things -- this is opposite of focus and intentional attentiveness, but I think giving oneself intentional time for distraction is a valuable creative tool, leading to new ideas.

The article touches on this, concluding with a brilliant observation that I think is spot-on:

"... 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."

and then this insight toward the end:

"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."


It's interesting that the verb associated with attention is pay. It's a commodity and there can be extreme inequality of attention.


I like being distracted, and letting my mind wander. Social media does not let my mind wander - it's only a distraction in the sense that it gets in the way of our lousy jobs.

The problem with social media, smart phone apps, and all this so-called "distracting" technology is that it's addictive.


It's argued that achievement-focused video games tap into our brain's reward center for accomplishment.

This article argues that distractions tap into our reward center for autonomy.

Both are good drives that can result in undesirable behavior when these games and distractions are ultimately unfulfilling. Just like gambling, food, or drug use, the issue here isn't necessarily a weakness of spirit, but an instinctive misinterpretation of the world around us.


A helpful tool to combat distraction: http://focusr.co


Some distractions are enriching, like the reading of this very article. Others are temporarily entertaining but ultimately disappointing, such as Buzzfeed.

The main thrust of this article is that "we are what we think," and distraction is an integral part of that selfhood. To be fulfilling, it simply has to be a choice: sometimes to let the mind be led, and sometimes to lead it. Both states of distraction and states of focus are vastly improved when we know how to freely transition from one to the other.


Building on top of the author conclusion: How can we have quality distraction ?

"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."

I can recall a few times where this happened to me: playing a game started feeling much like work, or reading some feed, or doing anything else that has been "gamified".


GTD was an epiphany for me. More than teach me how to focus in the short term (I believe that you can only achieve it with internal peace not a logical system) it taught me how to keep focus in the long term. That is already huge.




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