At my house, the subject of “attending” and “attention” come up often. (I’m married to a philosopher who specialize in philosophy of mind.)
So I was interested to see this longish essay in the New York Times about the subject of attention. The reporter interviewed Winifred Gallagher, whose new book is Rapt. (I’ve read several reviews of the book, but have not yet read the book itself.)
I mention this because the reporter and Gallagher focus on a subject I’ve contemplated often in the past six or seven years: adjusting my work habits to accomodate an online life. Before about 2000, I wasn’t all that sure what the “internet” was. I used email and had used a PC for years, but the whole online thing? Not so much.
And then I went online — with, frankly, disasterous results in the early years. But gradually I figured out how to negotiate this new terrain, and especially relations with humans I never see in the flesh.
The biggest issue was the mental intrusion. For example, pre-internet, I just sat down in the morning and started working. I didn’t have much else to do, or at least not anything as interesting as my work. I worked for hours without thinking about anything else.
And suddenly . . . there was this enticing wonderland out of there. Email. Websites. Online forums. All of it was literally screwing with my ability to concentrate. I struggled against it for several years and finally concluded that short of moving into a cave, I was now living in a different world and I had to learn how to cope and adjust.
So, for example, I bought a second computer. One is hooked to the internet. One is not.
I write on the “non-connected” one, and keep the “connected” one turned off when I’m writing. The point of this already longer-than-I-expected ramble is that we’d all do well to pay some attention to attention. I agree with Gallagher: “multi-tasking” is an illusion.
So take at look at the Times piece. And you might also consider reading another book on the subject, Maggie Jackson’s Distracted. (I have read it and I recommend it.)