The Distraction Addiction
Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang seeks to make digital technology less overwhelming—less distracting—for the average user. He calls his approach “contemplative computing.” That sounds like an oxymoron, but it’s profoundly simple: it’s about using tech to become more mindful, focused, and creative at work and in life.
Alex Soojung-Kim Pang studies people, and technology, and the worlds they make. His work explores how our interactions with computers change the way we think about ourselves, and how we value (or devalue) human memory and cognition. Pang is a senior consultant at Strategic Business Insights, a Menlo Park, CA consulting and research firm. He also has two academic appointments: he is a visitor at the Peace Innovation Lab at Stanford University, and an Associate Fellow at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. His book The Distraction Addiction explains how users can redesign their relationships with technologies to help them be calmer and sharper, and appears in Dutch, Russian, Chinese and Korean.
His second book, Rest: How Working Less Gets More Done will be published by Basic Books in December 2016.
Smartphones, PCs, and the Internet all promised to make us smarter, more connected, and more productive, but all too often have the opposite effect. Some argue that there’s nothing we can do, or that it’s not really a problem. Old users always lament the arrival of new information technologies, and computers have already rewired our brains to read status updates rather than Steinbeck. Alex Pang wants to provide an alternative to this sophisticated pessimism. In this talk, Pang explains how we can learn to use our devices to be more focused and mindful, not fractured and distracted. He explains how technologies can be used to extend our minds, and augment our abilities—not break up our attention and skew our thought process. Rather than be forced into a state of perpetual distraction, with all the unhappiness and discontent such a state offers, we can approach information technologies in a way that is mindful and nearly effortless, and that contributes to our ability to focus, be creative, and be happy.
It’s an approach Pang calls contemplative computing. Based on a blend of new science and philosophy, some very old techniques for managing your attention and mind, and a lot of experience with how people use (or are used by) information technologies, Pang shows us how your mind and body interact with and react to computers, how your attention and creativity are influenced by technology, and how small, everyday aspects of our relationships with devices—like whether we breathe when we’re checking our email—have surprising large consequences. He analyzes how our minds and high-tech lives work, why we become entangled with technology, and what makes our relationships with devices so seductive. Finally, Pang illustrates how we can use big ideas from philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience to consciously redesign our relationships with technologies, rebuild our capacities for attention and creativity, and take back control of our digital lives. With clear language and deep insights, Pang gives you the tools to redesign your online life, and construct a healthier, more balanced relationship with information technology. With the eight steps toward contemplative computing, Pang helps you start using technology to quiet the constantly browsing, tab-opening, googling mind.
Rest is like breathing or running. Everyone has a basic understanding of how to do it. Doing it really well, though, requires a knowledge that few bother to acquire. But learning how to rest well can boost your creativity, increase your productivity, and improve your quality of life. Learning how to rest may be the smartest lifehack of all.
All too often we treat rest as a luxury good or perk, or even a design flaw in our biology. In today’s 24/7 always-on world, we celebrate hard-driven entrepreneurs, over-schedule ourselves and our children, and treat sleep as a nuisance. But some of the most famous and successful people in history took rest seriously. Charles Darwin and Ernest Hemingway (among many) did their best work when alternating periods of intense focus and rest. During World War II, Winston Churchill took two-hour daily naps and Dwight Eisenhower unwound after 15-hour days with bridge games.
As Alex Pang explains in this talk, sources ranging from ancient philosophers to modern neuroscientists and economists tell us that rest is not an obstacle to a productive life, but an essential part of it. If you want to work well, you must know how to rest well.