Digital Distraction Debate (& Possible Evidence)

June 8, 2010 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: History, New Media, Video games 

We know attention is as important to writing as it is to most any practice, and a lot competes for our attention these days.  But are we more distracted than in the past?  The discussion has gone something like If you are distracted constantly, you become dependent on the stimuli in your environment–digital life and multitasking have “shallowed” our ability to attend to the world and our very bodies.

Or There’s no such thing as distraction–being distracted means we pay attention elsewhere.  We’ve always multitasked, and we’re smarter for the engagement it provides.

Debate can help frame our concerns, and we can pick sides in this.  But without getting out of our skin or applying multiple tools, we can’t know the accuracy of our perceptions.  A Feburary 2, 2010 Front Line found MIT students thought they were more productive when juggling tasks, but their reaction times slowed.  Thus, we’re beginning to test how multitasking is or isn’t impacting us.

This Sunday’s New York Times Article, Your Brain on Computers: Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price, focuses on a forty-something multi-tasker, not simply the youth as is usually done.  Care to check yourself for distraction?  There’s a test provided.

Admittedly, I found the test exceptionally easy.  But instead of congratulating myself on my abilities or doubting the test’s validity, I couldn’t help think the test was easy because it was a stripped down skill set I’ve acquired by playing video games.

Care to weigh in on this?  It’s an ongoing question: what does digital life mean for writing?  I’d be most interested in hearing what you think are the best tools to test our arguments.