Skip to main content

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.

Hardback:  

Kindle 
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The Art of Logic - Eugenia Cheng ***

This is an important book, though I'm not sure Eugenia Cheng would agree with my logic in saying so. 

Going on the marketing, what we have here is a counter to fake news and dodgy argumentation in the form of mathematical logic. The back cover tells us 'Newspaper headlines and social media use emotions to warp the facts. Politicians and companies master rhetoric to mislead us. What one book could help us make sense of it all?' Admittedly they don't answer their rhetorical question, but I assume the answer is intended to be The Art of Logic. (Did the company behind this book realise it was using rhetoric, though presumably not to mislead us?) 

What we actually have is a combination of a lucid and interesting explanation of the basics of logic with the mathematical equivalent of those books such as Algorithms to Live By that were so popular a couple of years ago. They used the logic of algorithms (differently worded, and, to me, easier to understand), the heart of computer…

Quantum Economics - David Orrell ****

David Orrell's earlier title Economyths is one of my favourite popular science books of all time. Or, perhaps, I should say popular non-science, as Orrell shows just how devastatingly traditional economics uses the tools of science without having a scientific basis. I was, therefore, really looking forward to reading Orrell's new book - until I saw the title. As anyone involved with physics can tell you, there's nothing more irritating than the business of sticking the word 'quantum' onto something to give a pseudo-scientific boost to waffle and woo. Was Orrell doing the same thing? Thankfully, his introduction put my fears aside.

Orrell, a mathematician with a physics background quickly makes it clear that the way he is using quantum theory is not just employing magic words, but involves making use of strong parallels between the nature of quantum objects and concepts like money (more on money in a moment). Yes, this is to some extent a metaphorical use of quantum …

The Ashtray - Errol Morris *****

Wow. When someone suggested I read a book called The Ashtray, written by a documentary film-maker, it didn't strike me that it would be a book that gave deep insights into the history and philosophy of science - while also being a remarkable reading experience. In fact, I almost didn't bother with it, but I'm glad that I did.

The titular ashtray was thrown at the author when he was a grad student - thrown by one of the two best known names in the philosophy of science, Thomas Kuhn, he of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions and the concept of paradigm shifts. Kuhn didn't like the young Errol Morris daring to challenge his ideas and reacted with what some would regard as a less than philosophical reply by hurling a heavy glass ashtray at him.

Part of the reason that reading The Ashtray is a remarkable experience is because it's a book that feels in some ways like watching a documentary. I have to confess I've never seen any of Morris's work, but he uses vis…