How to Survive the Age of Distraction

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How to Survive the Age of Distraction

E ->V<- B



In the age of the internet, physical paper books are a technology we need more, not less. In the 1950s, the novelist Herman Hesse wrote: "The more the need for entertainment and mainstream education can be met by new inventions, the more the book will recover its dignity and authority. We have not yet quite reached the point where young competitors, such as radio, cinema, etc, have taken over the functions from the book it can't afford to lose." We have now reached that point. And here's the function that the book – the paper book that doesn't beep or flash or link or let you watch a thousand videos all at once – does for you that nothing else will. It gives you the capacity for deep, linear concentration. As Ulin puts it: "Reading is an act of resistance in a landscape of distraction.... It requires us to pace ourselves. It returns us to a reckoning with time. In the midst of a book, we have no choice but to be patient, to take each thing in its moment, to let the narrative prevail. We regain the world by withdrawing from it just a little, by stepping back from the noise."

Johann Hari: How to survive the age of distraction



Which reminds me-- I don't have a book "on the go" at the moment.  I'm thinking of re-reading "Time Enough for Love".  But these forays back into what I enjoyed in my teenage years don't always end satisfactorily.  We'll see.  I think Vernor Vinge has a new book out. 

The other aspect of the paper book vs. the electronic is the freedom of transferability.  The more we use electronic forms, the more we surrender our freedoms.  And, by no coinicindence, our money.


My old man loved Heinlein, back when. The later novels, he mostly threw against a wall. Seems that way with many of the people we admired. You know who doesn't stale? Much to my surprise, reading Asimov short stories the other day, i found them as much fun as ever. Of the new(ish) crop, Robert Sawyer is competent, though not charismatic. My own true love is William Gibson. Spook Country was not as dense and evocative as Idoru and Neuromancer, but happier.

N.Beltov N.Beltov's picture

Hari wrote:
The idea of keeping yourself on a digital diet will, I suspect, become mainstream soon.

Boom Boom Boom Boom's picture

We have very slow dialup internet access here, and, for myself, that means I keep my books a while longer. I still like reading the series of books by James Herriot (All Things Wise and Wonderful), Donald Jack (THree Cheers For Me), and especially by Giovanni Guuareschi (Comrade Don Camillo). I have complete collections of all three authors. I used to have a complete collection of Kurt Vonnegut, but he's just too damned cynical.  In the past few years I've been buying up thick, hardbound cookbooks for fun reading (!!!).

Sven Sven's picture

With regard to the specific subject of distractions, I don't understand why "physical paper books" are uniquely suited for combating distraction.  I can sit and read for hours, concentrating on what an author is saying, whether it's a physical paper book or a Kindle book.  For me, the distraction is reading things on the's so easy to read for a bit...and then pop over and check my email...and then see what my sister or nieces may be up to on Facebook...and then check to see the latest baseball scores...and then...and then....and then...

The problem with distraction is that it make sustained concentration difficult or impossilble.  But, the antidote isn't necessarily "physical paper books" -- the antidote is making the time to sit in a comfortable chair in a quite room with a book (whatever the book's physical form may be).


I think the author made the point that Kindle will start to add aps that will allow you to read your e-mail, check crackbook, and google obscure references like kinbaku-bi, so it will become part of the distraction force. 

How many people actually read multi page documents on line?  How many times have we caught someone out here spouting on a subject, without bothering to read a link someone provided for some background?  I have to admit being caught out on that myself, once.  Embarassment is a good teacher.

Kindle will go this way. Yes, you will read that book on Kindle.  But what will be the retention? What will be the level of consentration?