Reply Thu 8 Jan, 2009 04:17 pm
The Erosion of Attention and the Coming of Dark Age
Maggie Jackson
ISBN: 978-1-59102-623-5
Publisher: Prometheus Books

NOTE: Some of these issues are great fodder for conversation and debate, there is a thread on already on this book's content at this link

OVERVIEW: This is a very fascinating and important read. With all the distractors so many of us have (particularly in the 21st century), this book supports quite well the notion that many of us are losing the capacity for concentrated thought, meaningful attention and rich interpersonal interaction. "In a distracted time, our virtual, split-screen, and nomadic lives nurture diffusion, fragmentation, and detachment. We begin to forget how to pay attention to one another deeply and beging to attend more to fallacy and artifice". This is not a difficult read, though it is written with much care and extreme attention to stating exactly what she's wanting to say. If you've wondered what constant high-pace lives, eroding relationships and would enjoy a perspective rich with supporting research and evidence, then this book is for you. What lies at the heart of her point is not to rid ourselves of technology or other distractional elements of our lives, but to expose ourselves to them smarter. This is good stuff.


  • Well supported assertions. M. Jackson makes a statement then picks it apart to support it with well-grounded research and meaningful statistical sources.
  • Organization: Chapters are laid out to go from the general to the specific.
  • Verbiage is also very well chosen; though obviously armed with a war chest of diverse expressions, the author uses them both sparingly and considerately.
  • Clever; mixed in with her examples, assertions and ideas are narrations of her visits to this or that person that are clever; providing a nice one-two punch of the ideas being expressed
  • Important: This is a very important book for anyone who can see what the misuse of technology, the disconnectness of the virtual and the lack of real attention is doing to 21st century industrialized peoples of the world


  • Given what I know and believe, her claim that we're on the cusp of a potential 'dark age' of thought, wisdom and relationships is incorrect. To my mind, we're already there.
  • Some areas, though quite interesting, didn't seem to support her thesis very well. As always, I'll admit my faults and append this criticism by acknowledging the distinct possibility that I may have missed such connection.
  • It tells of a quantifiable, yet painful aspect of our culture (21st century industrialized western cultures) that most people, I suspect, won't want to hear. As such, I fear the book's subtitle will turn many a reader off (by putting them on the defensive).


  • Damage to children of the culture of Distraction (U.S.) (pp18)
  • Internet and PowerPoint Mindset: A cornucopia of facts; a casm of understanding (pp20)
  • Freud's experience; the effect and allure of artificial visual stimuli (pp42)
  • The depersonalized effect of Virtual Relationships where what 'appears' becomes reality and the physical being suffers (pp47)
  • The Effect and relative 'Disposable-ness' of online relationships - its implications towards developing and fostering healthy connections (pp57)
  • The propensity towards skin-deep relationships in an age of multiple attention-grabbers; loss of the 'meaningful' (pp63)
  • Multiple stimuli-gadgetry and its effect on the growing loss of interpersonal connectedness, "loss of [physical] orientation" (pp65)
  • Television, "...the most power attention slicer yet invented" (pp72)
  • "Productivity" and the push to Do More, More Efficiently - destroyer of the rich life (pp84)
  • Meal time; its history and value to the individual and relationships - now become The Cram-and-Go culture (pp98)
  • On the Move - the "culture of becoming yet never quite arriving" (pp121)
  • Face to Face and Lack of Trust in modern U.S. Culture (pp149)
  • The Internet and growing inability to make meaningful sense out of the information we've access to (pp163)
  • More on the quick-answers-without-understanding and Wikipedia (pp177)
  • Growing relationships with our Machines; the good, the bad, the implications (pp189)
  • Loss of Memory and a Developed Imagination through the virtual, the titillating (pp216)
  • How this Culture of Distraction fosters impatience in the young; how a lack of patience leads to adult-failure (pp226)
  • Quality Attention and Self-Control; two of a kind - development and impediments (pp230)

My Rating: 9.3

NOTABLE QUOTES:[INDENT]"Heads down, we are allowing ourselves to be ever-more entranced by the unsifted trivia of life. With splintered focus, we're cultivating a culture of distratcion and detachment. We are eroding attention-the most crucial building block of wisdom, memory and ultimately the key to societal progress. In attention, we find the powers of slection and focus we so badly need in order to carve knowledge from the fast, shifting and ebbing oceans of information that surround us."
[/INDENT][INDENT]"I think we're beginning to see a time of darkness when, amid a plethora of high tech connectivity, one-quarter of Americans say they have no close confidante, more than double th enumber twenty years ago. It's a darkening time when we think togetherness means keeping one eye, hand, or ear on our gadgets, ever ready to tun into another channel of life, when we begin to turn to robots to tend to the sick and the old, when doctors listen to patients on an average for just eighteen seconds before interrupting, and when two-thirds of children under six live in homes that keep the television on half or more of the time, and einvoronment linked to attention deficiencies. We should worry when we have the world at our fingertips, but half of Americans age eighteen to twnety-four can't find New York state on a map and more than 60 percent can't similiarly locate Iraq".
[/INDENT][INDENT]"After writing a lighthearted short story titled 'In 1965', he admitted in an interview that he didn't envy those who would live in our time. 'Their every day will be caught in the wheels of a mechanized society," he said, "to the point where I wonder how they will find the time to enjoy the most simple pleasures we had at our disposal: silence, calm, solitude. Having never known them, they shall not be able to miss them. As for me, I do - and I pity them"
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Reply Sun 18 Jan, 2009 11:05 am
This looks to be a very interesting read, and I have added it to my wish list.

Thank you for another excellent review!
Reply Sat 7 Feb, 2009 03:57 pm
JLP wrote:
This looks to be a very interesting read, and I have added it to my wish list.

Thank you for another excellent review!

You're welcome, thank you for saying so.

I must add one note here since others have addressed another concern: This is not written to blame technology, the internet or any other "tool". It simply prompts the reader, in very conciliatory and thoughtful language, to look at the life they're living amongst the many sources of distraction we have and ask: Am I, or are we, losing "depth" in pursuit of hegemonic benchmarks of 'success'? With every subsequent tool of thought, entertainment or productivity comes with it the potential for mis-use. Compound the litany of tools we have in modern western society and add the sheer quantity of potential distractions available and the dangers should become clearer.

Regardless of how one might answer, I think it wise for each to ask.

Thanks, and thanks again JLP
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