Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Distracted Mind - Adam Gazzaley and Larry Rosen ***

I would be more comfortable with the opening words of The Distracted Mind 'This book is the first of its kind to explore the daily challenges we face with the highly engaging but extremely distracting high-tech world we now inhabit' if I hadn't read The Cyber Effect a few months ago. Admittedly Distracted Mind's intro goes on 'from the dual points of view of a psychologist and a neuroscientist', where The Cyber Effect was by a lone 'cyberpsychologist'... but to be honest it's the quality of the content and the writing that counts, not the authors' specific qualifications. (Which made the repeated reference to one of the authors as 'Dr. Rosen' rather irritating.)

Still, I was determined to overlook this early setback and luckily there is genuinely interesting and different material here, starting with the way that interference (hi tech or traditional, internal and external) gets in the way of completing tasks, though sadly this material is put across in the book in a plodding, textbook-like manner. Early on we get effective use of specific examples, but this doesn't continue through the book.

Perhaps the biggest problem here is the classic literary agent's cry 'Is it a book or an article?' This strikes me as an excellent magazine article, but there didn't seem enough material to make a full book out of it. I learned that ignoring is an active process. It takes resources to filter out what is irrelevant. I saw how people, particularly younger people who try to multitask with devices all the time, distract themselves from tasks. And we're all being affected by the technology. And that's about it.

It didn't help that sometimes the book felt like an advertorial - I lost count of the number times 'The Gazzaley Lab' got a name check, and there did seem to be one or two products being pushed later on.

I don't want to be too negative about this book. Like The Cyber Effect before it, it genuinely has an important message about the way that information and communication technology is having an impact on our ability to concentrate. There are truly shocking statistics here, like the way that students set an urgent 15 minute task could only go about 3 minutes before they switched to checking social media or texts. We need to be more conscious of how we make use of this technology and how to forego it when we want to concentrate or let our minds wander creatively. I'm just not sure this is the ideal book to get that message across.


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Review by Brian Clegg

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