Besieged by virtual demands on our attention, we are losing touch with the world

97bfcaf7-3857-4bf6-ac42-6c7665d26a92Sarah Bakewell at the Financial Times:

In Aldous Huxley’s utopian novel Island, mynah birds are trained to fly around the island’s proto-hippy paradise calling, “Attention! Attention!” and “Here and now, boys!”, to keep people alert to the moment.

This seemed a fine idea in 1962, when the novel appeared, but it might work less well in today’s world. Our problem is not so much one of vague absent-mindedness as of bombardment by exactly the sort of uncalled-for twittering Huxley was proposing as a solution. Each time we walk down the street, take a cab, enter an airport or navigate the internet, we field volleys of demands on our attention from advertisers and corporations, as well as from supposed public service announcements and the general cacophony. We don’t need more alerts; we need filters for screening the existing ones out.

Many of us try to achieve this by putting up a wall of phone screens and earphones when we go out. Behind the wall, we are free to tune into our elective world of music, games, and communications with far-off friends. Unfortunately, this can undermine our ability to work with the given world instead of against it. It isolates us and helps turn us into what Simon Schama has recently called a “look-down” generation: always lowering our eyes to a representation of something not there, rather than looking out at what is there — which includes other people.

Such ideas provide the starting point for Matthew Crawford’s The World Beyond Your Head: How to Flourish in an Age of Distraction, which follows his successful The Case for Working With Your Hands (or Shop Class as Soulcraft, as the US edition was more evocatively called).

more here.