“I learned that the factors harming our attention are not all immediately obvious. I had been focused on tech at first, but in fact the causes range very widely – from the food we eat to the air we breathe, from the hours we work to the hours we no longer sleep. They include many things we have come to take for granted – from how we deprive our children of play, to how our schools strip learning of meaning by basing everything on tests.”
Harri makes a strong, arguably obvious case that technology is systemically degrading our cognitive abilities, primarily driven by business models that demand nonstop engagement: the so-called attention economy.
I’ve been aware of it for years now, but it became crystal clear last summer after my stroke, when everything slowed down out of necessity, and I found myself thinking more clearly than I had in years. The physical need to slow down, take daily walks, and limit stressful activities brought an unfamiliar sense of clarity, and I can’t wait for winter to be over so I can get back on track!
(Running and video games have long been my primary escapes that allow me to focus on one thing for a long period of time, so I’ve been playing a lot more video games since the temperature dropped. Sadly, longform reading takes a level of focus I can rarely muster these days.)
I agree with Harri’s conclusion, though; individual changes won’t solve the problem. My ability to focus started wearing off again after a few months as I fully re-engaged in work, but it did subtly change my relationship with social media in ways that are mostly holding up, even as 2022 makes doom scrolling a seemingly unavoidable activity. Unfortunately, I don’t share his optimism that things can change, but maybe we can stop actively trying to make them even worse?