At an individual level, I think the “distracted Americans” scare will pass. Either people who manage to unplug, focus, and fully direct their attention will have an advantage over those constantly checking Facebook and their smart phone, in which case they’ll earn more money, get into better colleges, start more successful companies, and win more Nobel Prizes. Or they won’t, in which case distraction will be a trait of modern life but not necessarily a defect. At the level of national politics, America is badly distracted, but that problem long predates Facebook and requires more than a media solution.

Sustained concentration has never been a strong point with me, particularly, and if anything’s made that a more severe problem for me in the last five to fifteen years, I can’t help doubting, at age 40, that it’s technological at root. So I’m inclined toward the author’s, Fallows’, view, here — as at other places in his new Atlantic piece. I’m uncomfortable with his larger suggestion, on the other hand, that the responsible elements in his industry should get on with ‘facing the inevitability of the shift to infotainment.’ In what’s become (over the past century or two) our mainstream journalism ethic, I prefer the conservative & inertial to the entrepreneurial, innovational side. I still look with hope to the potential in modern media to serve as check against sudden moves of culture — accelerative & decelerative alike.

‘What are we becoming by way of our tools & practice — technological evolution?’ is obviously as important a question as it’s ever been. But the greater question is still ‘Who do we want to be?’ I wonder if I’m beginning to see clearly something of my dissatisfaction with accounts of societal development that focus on the pace & complexity of our predominant machinery of connection & disconnection. They’re impressive pictures, these accounts, frequently enough, but they don’t tell enough of the story. There’s more to us than our media.

Not that some steady proportion of us wanting somehow to be good & whole will certainly lead to cultural elevation (or even just, say, reliable journalism). Nor that lacking the right sort of desire in sufficient quantity, we’ll certainly go to the devil. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that.

One Reply to “Traction”

  1. I think your intuitions are pretty spot on here. The journalist makes too much of the claim for technology and the media’s impact upon our lives. Not that these aren’t important factors to consider, but that the manner in which it might have consequences are too skewed. The distraction or its ability to kill or cure has been massively overplayed. I’m sure similar concerns have been made about new tech in every generation. What exactly has changed in our behaviour hasn’t been suitably enumerated, but the concern has.

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