Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New York Magazine on the Distraction Generation

In the cover story in this week's New York Magazine, Sam Anderson addresses the internet generation's attention problems in a more comprehensive way than I've seen elsewhere. The New Yorker took on the neuro-enhancer phenomenon a few weeks back, and Anderson touches on that, but goes further to show how the internet itself can influence brain function. It's a complicated article that lays out the pros and cons of doing several things at once and not being able to truly focus on one task at a time. If you're like me, you can relate to the experience of having several windows or tabs open at once and trying to get everything in your life done simultaneously. One passage that rang true for me compared the way we use the internet to a Skinner experiment:

[The internet] dispenses its never-ending little shots of positivity—a life-changing e-mail here, a funny YouTube video there—in gloriously unpredictable cycles. It seems unrealistic to expect people to spend all day clicking reward bars—searching the web, scanning the relevant blogs, checking e-mail to see if a co-worker has updated a project—and then just leave those distractions behind, as soon as they’re not strictly required, to engage in “healthy” things like books and ab crunches and undistracted deep conversations with neighbors. It would be like requiring employees to take a few hits of opium throughout the day, then being surprised when it becomes a problem.

This idea of internet addiction can be scary, and Anderson does seem to offer some degree of warning. But in the end, he suggests that distraction may not be so bad for the brain. This time, his source is Proust's À la Recherche du Temps Perdu:

It’s important to remember, however, that the most famous moment in all of Proust, the moment that launches the entire monumental project, is a moment of pure distraction: when the narrator, Marcel, eats a spoonful of tea-soaked madeleine and finds himself instantly transported back to the world of his childhood. Proust makes it clear that conscious focus could never have yielded such profound magic: Marcel has to abandon the constraints of what he calls “voluntary memory”—the kind of narrow, purpose-driven attention that Adderall, say, might have allowed him to harness—in order to get to the deeper truths available only by distraction. That famous cookie is a kind of hyperlink: a little blip that launches an associative cascade of a million other subjects. This sort of free-associative wandering is essential to the creative process; one moment of judicious unmindfulness can inspire thousands of hours of mindfulness.

Yes, the article is long, but I encourage you to take some time and read it if you too find yourself living a slightly distracted life. Then you can start following me on Twitter.

ONN: Police Slog Through 40,000 Insipid Party Pics To Find Cause Of Dorm Fire

The Onion News Network takes on the Facebook photo phenomenon.

"So in the next 19 photos these female students took, we can document the cigarette falling all the way to the floor in this picture where all the girls did their goofy sexy poses."

Police Slog Through 40,000 Insipid Party Pics To Find Cause Of Dorm Fire

Trailer: Sherlock Holmes

This is for the Guy Ritchie directed, Robert Downey Jr./Jude Law action movie version, not the Sacha Baron Cohen/Will Ferrell comedy version, but still looks pretty bad ass.

Michael Steele's Tea Bag of Change

The best of part of Michael Steele's speech today:

"This change, my friends, is being delivered in a tea bag. And that’s a wonderful thing."

Michael Steele's RNC Address

In his address to the RNC today, Michael Steele laid our the challenges of opposing Obama.

"Folks like him. He's got an easy demeanor. He's a great orator. His campaign was based on change and hope. He's young. He's cool. He's hip. He's got a good looking family. What's not to like?"

Ventura vs. Hannity

Jesse Ventura is back in the spotlight dominating people on torture left and right. This time, he takes on Sean Hannity.

Ellen's Tulane Commencement Address

How does she manage to be so funny and so insightful at the same time?

"I know that a lot of you are concerned about your future but there's no need to worry. The economy is booming, the job market is wide open, the planet is just fine."

Meghan McCain on Colbert

The always entertaining @McCainBlogette was Colbert's guest last night and talked about how she's pro-sex. Then she gets scared that her father's watching when Colbert says she's pro-gay marriage.

"President Obama is not even pro-gay marriage. You're more liberal than President Obama."

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Michael Steele and Fox News Disagree on Rebranding Strategy

Fox and Friends really wants Steele to rebrand the Democrats as the Democrat Socialist Party, while Steele is more interested in rebranding the Republican Party. Either way, there will be some rebranding going on.

"He a very social guy. He's just not a socialist."

The Daily Show: Barack Obama Is Cliff Huxtable

Senior Obamalist Wyatt Cynac explains:

"They're both married to hot lawyers. Both work out of offices on the west side of their houses. And both have unrealistically cute daughters."

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Barack Obama Is Cliff Huxtable
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