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Attention!

July 23, 2008

Read this:

http://technology.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/tech_and_web/the_web/article4362950.ece

Attention is the golden key to the mystery of human consciousness; it might one day tell us how we make the world in our heads. Attention comes naturally to us; attending to what matters is how we survive and define ourselves.

The opposite of attention is distraction, an unnatural condition and one that, as Meyer discovered in 1995, kills. Now he is convinced that chronic, long-term distraction is as dangerous as cigarette smoking. In particular, there is the great myth of multitasking. No human being, he says, can effectively write an e-mail and speak on the telephone. Both activities use language and the language channel in the brain can’t cope. Multitaskers fool themselves by rapidly switching attention and, as a result, their output deteriorates.

– “The deep reading that used to come naturally has become a struggle.”

“The important thing,” he tells me, “is that we now go outside of ourselves to make all the connections that we used to make inside of ourselves.” The attending self is enfeebled as its functions are transferred to cyberspace.

They don’t,” says Bauerlein, “grow up.” They are “living off the thrill of peer attention. Meanwhile, their intellects refuse the cultural and civic inheritance that has made us what we are now”.

The hyper-connectivity of the young is bewildering. Jackson tells me that one study looked at five years of e-mail activity of a 24-year-old. He was found to have connections with 11.7m people. Most of these connections would be pretty threadbare. But that, in a way, is the point. All internet connections are threadbare. They lack the complexity and depth of real-world interactions. This is concealed by the language.

“The next generation will not grieve because they will not know what they have lost,” says Bill McKibben, the great environmentalist.

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