May 5/20 Book Review; Attention, A Love Story







Naomi Nye highly recommended this to me and I read it in two sittings, enjoyed it.

“In the early days of our (families’) digital life, I had been the doomsday old crone in a twenty-year-old’s body, rolling my eyes at the new code of behavior I witnessed online.” But she realized she was “staring into glowing screens of all sizes for more and more of each day.”

Nice to find somebody who has come to some of the same conclusions I have, and one of the most rewarding things about this book is that it is also a compendium of many other books and studies that investigate this social behavior and its problems.

Although I don’t personally know anybody who has had their life taken over by social media or their phones to the extent that Casey Schwartz claims hers was, I still find the amount of hours spent watching television to be worthy of some thought. Never happened before in human history. Never.

Much of this book is autobiographical in the most intimate way but like all autobiographies the author must select and emphasize, even exaggerate, to make a point. From beginning to end she tells of her addition to Instagram and other social media, taking her phone out of her pocket many times a day to check the latest. I imagine it can’t have been that bad, but her point is not only Attention, as given, as a gift, but her addiction to Adderall as well as glowing screens.

Along the way she quotes Silicon Valley studies and many other writers who have addressed the problem of focus and attention. You will be interested to learn what “variable ratio reinforcement” is. The book is a resource work as well as a confessional and extremely useful. I will quote some of her quotes;

“Sean Parker, Facebook’s former president, admitted to being afraid of what social media is ‘doing to our children’s brains’  (And) Just as Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had both strictly limited their children’s access to their devices, by 2017, it had become increasingly popular for the Technorati to send their own kids to tech-free schools, to want for them not shiny iPad screens but old-fashioned tactile finger paints, wooden blocks and paper books. It is only outside of Silicon Valley that we turn such a blind eye to the effects of unmitigated technology on developing brains,”

James Williams, a former Google employee; “I felt…distracted. But it was more than just “distraction”—this was some new mode of deep distraction I didn’t have words for…I felt the story of my life being compromised in some fuzzy way I couldn’t articulate..”

This is from his book Stand Out of Our Light.

What I see as the real discussion is focus and long-term concentration. To own or possess private aims, apart from social approval, and set out to do these things even if it is only (!) embroidery or a garden plot or woodwork. Which is not an “only” as the Zen masters have repeatedly said.

All my friends and relatives are on some kind of social media and they like it and they don’t seem to have had their souls stolen by it. As for me I just blog about it and since this little blog has only about 2500 readers, I remain The Shadowy Griper.

A great many useful books mentioned and a cautionary life story of addiction, the search for deep focus, and love. Love wins.