Distraction is the New Censorship

Statues of men wearing headphones

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In today’s attention economy, ideas don’t need to be deleted or redacted to be silenced. They can be drowned out privately, screen by screen, by unchecked noise from decoy bots, doxxing campaigns, and filter bubbles.

In WIRED‘s Free Speech issue, Zeynep Tufekci describes how so many of the “most noble old ideas about free speech simply don’t compute in the age of social media.”

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How I Got My Attention Back

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There are a thousand beautiful ways to start the day that don’t begin with looking at your phone. And yet so few of us choose to do so.

Was I being too hard on technology? Were we all? Technology is such an easy scapegoat. But it feels so right to point our fingers — It must have been the fake news. It must have been Facebook. It must have been Twitter. It must have been Reddit forums.

It was none of these things. It was all of these things. Whatever it was, it robbed us of our attention and, with that, our compassion. But the network never meant to harm us. Hell, it was made by a gaggle of geeks in rooms without windows in the suburbs of Geneva. That’s either the most endearing image, or the most creepy.

Regardless, down in Virginia, on a repurposed plantation: I want my attention back. The thought wouldn’t let go.

Apple’s Don’t Disturb While Driving Mode Is a Blunt Answer to a Nuanced Problem

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Apple announced a bunch of whizz-bang thingamabobs at its Worldwide Developers Conference this week—a new iPad, the Homepod, smart security upgrades. But it’s a little fanfared feature that might save the most lives: Do Not Disturb While Driving mode extends the company’s existing Do Not Disturb mode to the car. The original is great for meetings and naps; the newcomer might prevent you from killing yourself and others.

Look left, look right — but not at your cell phone in Honolulu crosswalks

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When you cross the street in Honolulu, look both ways — but NOT at the life-changing text your best friend just sent.

The city just approved a law making it illegal for pedestrians to “cross a street or highway while viewing a mobile electronic device.” The law covers video games, pagers and laptops, and the ubiquitous smartphones.

People won’t stop staring at their phones, so a Dutch town put traffic lights on the ground

traffic light

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Bodegraven, a town in the Netherlands, has installed LED light strips on the sidewalk that synchronize with traffic signals and turn red or green at pedestrian crossings, so that people can’t miss them even if their eyes are cast down toward their smartphone screens. The lights were built by HIG Traffic Systems, a company that is based in the town, and so far have been installed at a single intersection for a pilot project, but the company hopes to spread the idea to other towns and cities if the trial is successful.

“The attraction of social media, games, WhatsApp and music is great and at the expense of attention to traffic,” said Kees Oskam, a local councilor. “As a government, we probably can not easily reverse this trend, but we want to anticipate it in there.”

 

The Guilty Secret of Distracted Parenting

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Parents at the playground looking at their phones while their children play, unsupervised. Parents at the Little League game checking their email and missing the all-important at-bat. Parents at dinner focused on the action on their screens, rather than the real people around the table.

We don’t always like to admit it, but taking care of small children is often quite tedious. When my three children were small, I wouldn’t have made it through without a certain amount of distraction.

 

Read This Story Without Distraction (Can You?)

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Stop what you’re doing.

Well, keep reading. Just stop everything else that you’re doing.

Mute your music. Turn off your television. Put down your sandwich and ignore that text message. While you’re at it, put your phone away entirely. (Unless you’re reading this on your phone. In which case, don’t. But the other rules still apply.)

Just read.

You are now monotasking.

Maybe this doesn’t feel like a big deal. Doing one thing at a time isn’t a new idea.

Indeed, multitasking, that bulwark of anemic résumés everywhere, has come under fire in recent years. A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology found that interruptions as brief as two to three seconds — which is to say, less than the amount of time it would take you to toggle from this article to your email and back again — were enough to double the number of errors participants made in an assigned task.

Earlier research out of Stanford revealed that self-identified “high media multitaskers” are actually more easily distracted than those who limit their time toggling.