A personal and professional study of the struggle with attention in an age of distraction.
After recounting her decadelong addiction to Adderall, journalist Schwartz (In the Mind Fields: Exploring the New Science of Neuropsychoanalysis, 2015) goes in search of attention in all its rather elusive manifestations, investigating its power to define a human life. In the process, she began to realize that the way all of us pay attention in this technological era had changed. Splintered attention and perpetual interruption are the norm. A frequent contributor to the New York Times, Schwartz asks questions of singular significance: "Why are we so susceptible to all the escape routes our technologies offer us in the first place? What are we fleeing?" With a critical and open mind, the author assesses the works of such disparate writers as David Foster Wallace, Simone Weil, William James, and Aldous Huxley, and she applies no less rigor to exploring attention with such avatars of expanded consciousness as Stanislav Grof and Gabor Maté. Schwartz writes that the chief ingredients of attention are curiosity and joy and that attention is not only about having a meaningful life, but being in the moment, deriving pleasure from the very act of being absorbed in one's observations rather than burying one's self in a device. The author is unfailingly honest about her own addiction to the iPhone and her vulnerabilities and self-doubt. By personalizing her account, and her journey, she enhances the book's potency without diluting its authority. While techno-distractedness is not the sole province of the young, those who have known no other reality in their brief lives would seem to be most susceptible to the allure of Silicon Valley's steady stream of creations, each designed to be irresistible. Even though the author has “yet to enroll in a digital detox,” she points the way toward “helpful digital minimalism strategies.”
Being attentive is an acquired skill. Schwartz helps us think deeply and clearly about what it offers us.