I’ve been interested in the topic of ‘attention’ for quite a long time. I value attention as a needed asset for reading and thinking…some of my favorite things. And I suppose I’ve been interested because I’ve been aware of how my attention seems to ebb and flow through both days and seasons.
I read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr in 2012, a few years after it was released. It was the earliest book that I’m aware of that spoke about how our capacity for attention was waning as information was coming at us ever faster, and in smaller chunks. I think even then, I wasn’t needing to be convinced by that book, so much as affirmed.
Since then, I’ve still been able to sustain enough attention to work my way through several books about, uh, attention. But I’ve just finished reading the one I think is the most helpful, and the one I’ll be recommending to others — Stolen Focus, by Johann Hari.
I appreciate that Hari names both the individual challenges as well as the environmental challenges we face for our diminished attention. I guess better said, he names how the personal challenges are primarily caused and exacerbated by the systemic challenges; smart phones, finely tuned social media algorithms, sleep patterns, diet, stress, and so many other cultural ‘norms’ are working against us. And with that, then, he points out that the solutions require cultural changes that we can’t apply at an individual level.
That might leave one feeling a little helpless, but I appreciate that Hari also writes in a way that offers at least some clarity on what change might be required. Most helpful, I think, was the way he compared previous environmental dangers that became regulated, things like lead in construction materials, or even labeling in foods.
So, since this is my preferred ‘recommended reading’ on what I think is an important topic, I recommend it to you as well. I hope it will help you turn your attention to why you might be struggling to maintain your attention. I hope you will find some ways to reset your own daily rhythms, but also find some ways to join alongside others in calling for change.
About John Chandler
I am also interested in finding meaningful ways of living outside of my work, which seems to include a lot of reading, watching baseball (Angels!) or football (Broncos!), playing board games, eating salsa, and wishing I was hiking more. Oh, and coffee.
I live on the desert edge of Phoenix with my wife and kids – with previous stops in Austin and outside Seattle as a grown-up, and SoCal and Colorado as a youngster.
You can find more of my meanderings on my micro.blog.