A Conventional Analysis of In Defense of Distraction

November 25, 2016 Music

Sara Smith
Tiffin University

24 September 2011

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A Conventional Analysis of ???In Defense of Distraction??? is an analysis of Western culture??™s dependence on electronic devices and how they have grown so out of control. The addiction to Internet and substances to provoke focus are not a good combination, as one feeds the other in an endless cycle. Scientists have tried to legalize the use of neuro-enhancers, or ADHD medications, but they probably didn??™t realize is that the brain does not want to focus on one object for an extended period of time, and would rather analyze that subject, which leads to the concept of distraction.


This current generation has an attention problem. New technologies occupy our precious brain cells on tasks less important than school and driving, for example. Prized iPods and cell phones destruct this generation more than drugs and crime. The question is: why have Americans allowed distractions to happen
Anderson (2009) states ???multitasking is a common misconception in Western culture. (p. 506)??? Not only is this not true, multitasking is very rarely as we describe it. Writing an essay and watching television does not count because they use similar parts of the brain (the visual areas) at the same time. If one was to truly multitask, he or she would need to be carrying out tasks using different areas of the brain (running would be motor skills, listening to music would be auditory, and watching for cars is visual). With this new idea think about how many areas of the brain conflict when talking on the phone and driving. Those accidents were not as big of a problem ten or twenty years ago.
Anderson (2009) uses Linda Stone??™s, a tech theorist, coined phrase ???continuous partial attention (p. 506)??? to describe Western culture??™s attention issue. It describes an elective ADHD American office employees have forced themselves into. Rather than stick with one task and complete it before moving on, they will interrupt themselves and work on something else, taking only a few minutes per objective. Overall, wasting an average of 25 minutes for recovery per interruption, workers will spend a third of their day regaining the information they lost from moving to another task.
While people may blame their devices for interruptions, inactivity, or even late assignments, it really is that person??™s fault for not having whatever requirement completed. Western culture??™s biggest flaw is our inability to ignore our phones and computers, an addiction. This issue is not completely due to faulty will-power, as ???B.F. Skinner discovered the most irresistible reward is actually an unpredictable reward schedule, or ???variable ratio schedule, (Anderson, 2009, p. 509)??™??? which happens every time a person gets on the internet. Every time we search the web, read relevant blogs, or check our e-mail, we receive an internal reward for our addiction to electronics. Anderson (2009) uses the example of giving employees ???a few hits of opium throughout the day, then being surprised when it becomes a problem. (p. 509)??? What he wants us to understand from this statement is the destructive processes that occur from taking drugs are just as severe as being on the Internet for long periods of time.
The incredible irony is that Western culture is the culprit for our addictions to overachieving, getting as much done as efficiently as possible. We, as a society, have created not only the devices we are addicted to, but also drugs that treat the side effects. Adderall, Ritalin, Aricept, and Provigil, are drugs prescribed to treat various attentive diseases. Although all of these neuro-enhancers are illegal without a prescription, they are popular with college students, though many other fields use them. ?????¦Journalists on deadlines, doctors performing high-stakes surgeries, competitors in poker tournaments, researchers suffering through the grind of grant-writing (Anderson, 2009, p. 509)??? are all different careers when people have abused these substances, simply to control their ability to focus, and gain an advantage over a situation.
Anderson (2009) quotes a group of scientists that argued for ???legalization and mainstream acceptance for neuro-enhancers. (p. 509)??? They claim, in the published paper Nature (December, 2009), neuro-enhancers no different from ???traditional ???cognitive enhancers, (p. 509)??™??? or natural forms of regaining an attentive state of mind, such as ???exercise, nutrition, private tutoring, reading and sleep. (p. 509)??? These drugs are best for sound tasks: some Adderall users have complained of a lack of creativity. These drugs also ???raise cognitive abilities beyond their species-typical upper bound, (p. 509)??? which is a risk some doctors are wary of because the biggest reason someone would use these drugs, excepting people who have been prescribed for them, would be to excel in their field.
Anderson (2009) uses the term ???lifehacking (p.510)??? to describe a major reason for using the Internet. The term explains any trick or solution for problems in one??™s life, but Anderson fears Western culture has a self-help crisis, where America spends hours searching for better ways to carry out trivial tasks. Anderson (2009) includes challenges such as ???how to take a nap, or what kind of notebook to buy. (p. 511)??? The idea of life hacks stems from conventional thoughts on how to solve problems, but the theory has spiraled out of control, ???seeking to help you allocate your attention efficiently. (Anderson, 2009, p. 510)??? Anderson??™s message here declares our time saving habits are causing our attention issue, as searching for the right habit wastes more time than actually doing that task. In an interview with Merlin Mann, Mann states: ???There??™s no[thing] that??™s [going to] help you figure out why??¦you??™re here. That??™s on you??¦.The best way to deal with it is by admitting [your attention problems]??¦. (Anderson, 2009, p. 511)???
Quoting Marcel Proust??™s work titled A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, which is translated into English as ???In Search of Lost Times,??? Anderson (2009) uses Proust??™s ???most famous moment??¦a moment of pure distraction: when the narrator, Marcel??¦is transported back to the world of his childhood. (p. 512)??? Proust goes on to claim ???conscious focus could not have yielded such profound magic. (Anderson, 2009, p. 512)??? One can take Anderson??™s meaning of distraction not being so much as a bad thing at times, but simply refocused attention.
William James created Anderson??™s (2009) favorite ???focusing exercise. (p. 512)??? The exercise requires one to stare at a dot or fixed point for as long as he or she can. This task may seem simple, but James argues that ???[The mind] is too hungry for variety, surprise and the adventure of the unknown. (Anderson, 2009, p. 512)??? James describes the mind??™s want to learn more about that object of focus, and rather than stare at the object. The brain compares the focus point to other beings, analyzes the object??™s qualities, and describes the placement relationship to that point. In conclusion, the exercise determines the capability of organizing distractions rather than attempting total focus on the subject.
As a whole this problem can be fixed, but this generation is built on these devices we have created. While Internet addiction and elective ADHD may not be noticed or acknowledged now or even a decade from now, it is a growing problem. Most people will not want to give up being able to talk to friends with the push of a button, but that is how this generation was raised.


Anderson, S. (2008). In defense of distraction. In D. Rossenwasser & J. Stephens (Eds.), Writing analytically with readings. (pp. 503-513). Boston, MA: Wadsworth. (Original work published 2009).


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