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The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul Hardcover – August 20, 2013
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Setting aside the question of whether people enslaved by their mobile devices and the Internet would devote any time to reading this rangy self-help book by futurist Pang, those who do might discover that his approach to contemplative computing has merit. Taking a page from Buddhist thought, Pang presents eight principles (or steps) to help those hopelessly distracted by technology’s siren call convert their switch-tasking to productive multitasking, adopt tools to protect their concentration, be more mindful in their involvement with social media, and recharge their minds and souls through restorative practices, including observing a DIY Digital Sabbath. Pang bolsters his advice with anecdotes of intellectual breakthroughs by great thinkers of the past, coupled with interviews with present-day scientists and tech-savvy professionals. These accounts, including the surprising use of social media by Buddhist monks and a lengthy analysis of Darwin’s method of reflection through walking, are the best part of Pang’s book, placing today’s current tech addiction into a broader context of human history, development, and philosophical insight. —Carolyn Saper --Carolyn Saper
"Amusing and edifying.... THE DISTRACTION ADDICTION is not framed as a self-help book...It's a thoughtful examination of the perils of our computing overdose and a historical overview of how technological advances change consciousness." -- Washington Post
"A perceptive new study of how best to cope with the relentless interruptions presented by digital life...Pang persuasively and carefully constructs a remedy he calls 'contemplative computing'... to think clearly and calmly, Pang offers original and often inspired ideas." -- San Francisco Chronicle
"Skeptical without pandering to technophobia or neuroscience.... The Distraction Addiction brims with suggestions for how to embrace 'contemplative computing,' a mindful approach to digital technology... Instead of shunning the technological in pursuit of the mythical authentic experience, Pang wants to clean up the mess it created." -- The New Yorker
"Pang's strength is his ability to weave together previously written-about ideas from such varied sources as histories of science (e.g., Darwin's daily walk) and Silicon Valley propaganda (the 'digital Sabbath')." -- Cleveland Plain Dealer
"An elegant tour through current neuroscience and an examination of the nature of attention. Pang's tome is a valuable resource for anyone seeking to take control of his or her digital life, and it's a great primer on the interplay between mind and tech." -- Publishers Weekly
"Pang reminds us that our brains are still capable of feats far beyond the reach of computers." -- Mother Jones
"Pang implores us to use technology more mindfully in this thoughtful book that is rich in research and anecdote. Perfect for readers who enjoy books on the nature of attention such as Maggie Jackson and Bill McKibben's Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age and on the behavior of human-computer interaction." -- Library Journal
"Pang bolsters his advice with anecdotes of intellectual breakthroughs by great thinkers of the past, coupled with interviews with present-day scientists and techsavvy professionals. These accounts, including the surprising use of social media by Buddhist monks and a lengthy analysis of Darwin's method of reflection through walking, are the best part of Pang's book, placing today's current tech "addiction" into a broader context of human history, development, and philosophical insight." -- Booklist
"Pang's notion of mindful, or contemplative, computing is useful." -- TechCrunch
"A wise, urbane, funny, and delightfully deep book. This book is about much more than distraction and addiction in the smartphone age. It's about living life wholly and fully by paying deep, thoughtful attention to our tools and our bodies, and to the people we love. This book speaks to modern times, but its message is timeless." -- Michael Chorost, author of World Wide Mind: The Coming Integration of Humanity, Machines, and the Internet
"The era of the smartphone and the iPad seems to present us with a deeply unappealing choice: either we can resign ourselves to a life of tech-induced anxiety and distraction, or we can renounce the many benefits of the web-connected world. In this important and hopeful book, Alex Pang explains that there's a third possibility. Using the approach he calls "contemplative computing," we can harness technology to foster, not disrupt, attention and calm -- and thereby use our gadgets in the service of a meaningful life, rather than letting them use us." -- Oliver Burkeman, Guardian columnist and author of The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can't Stand Positive Thinking
"Does technology rule you? Or do you rule your technology? The Distraction Addiction is a how-to guide for staying sane, balanced, and intentional in an age of constant digital distraction. If you want your phone, facebook, email, and all the rest to make your life richer without making it more scattered, this is the book for you." -- Ramez Naam, author of The Infinite Resource: The Power of Ideas on a Finite Planet
"Time starved? Distracted by the immediate? Tossing in an ocean of swirling information? No landfall in sight? Need a lodestar; a pilot, perhaps a Zen master? Turn to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang: he has charted these waters. With Pang's help you can surprise yourself. The Distraction Addiction is an intelligent, entertaining and essential guide to navigation in our techno-times." -- Peter C. Whybrow, Director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA, and author of American Mania: When More is Not Enough
"The Distraction Addiction is guaranteed to distract and provoke us from the normal clichés of the day. It stretches our understanding of technological affordances and the extended mind, bringing into reality what we usually think of philosophically. Read this book and be surprised and delighted by its deeply humanist sensibilities." -- John Seely Brown, co-author of The Social Life of Information
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The book doesn't disappoint. OK, that's an understatement. It's one of those books I wish I had written.
Even though this is a book about the dangers of technology use, it is not one of those panicked, hopeless, technology-hating arguments. It is a guide for making the best out of technology - for using it rather than being used by it.
The book's premise rests in the idea of the extended mind, a concept Alex reframes as entanglement with technology. At its best, entanglement is a state of feeling the body and mind being pleasantly and seamlessly extended by technology - perceiving technology as part of oneself, just like a skilled skier perceives the skis as part of herself when zooming down a slope. This kind of entanglement has been happening since the beginning of history and tool use. Whether you use skis, an axe, a bicycle, a pen, a car, or a computer, you can have that sense of it extending your human abilities, being a part of yourself. However, there are times when entanglement goes wrong, and technology feels like a pair of broken, uncomfortable, awkward high-heel shoes. Then, it becomes an extension of yourself that hinders movement, an arm that doesn't obey the brain's commands; a cause of frustration and stress.
The book is grounded in solid Western empirical research as well as Eastern thought and practice. It combines the two to propose a guide for the positive kind of entanglement.
The book ends beautifully and hopefully:
"You are the inheritor of a contemplative legacy that you can use to retake control of your technology, to tame the monkey mind, and to redesign your extended mind. Connection is inevitable. Distraction is a choice."
The question remains, how easy and feasible is the plan proposed in this book? I find it feasible, but not necessarily easy. It requires some training of executive attention (aka mindfulness) that might take a while to develop, and demands commitment to regular practice.
Nevertheless, I consider this a must-read and can't wait to gift it to friends and talk about it!
Having personally spent the last 5+ plus years reading all the books, talking to all the authors/doctors/coaches/guru's and attending conferences like the International Symposium for Contemplative Sciences, I can safely say that this book is both a great summation of the next wave that is crashing into the major markets, but is also a unique take that requires both a deeply contemplative mind as well as a unique handle on how technology is extending it, whether we choose to be conscious of it or not, to have written about it in such an accessible way.
I highly recommend reading this book.
The biggest problem with this book is the author often gets off track; the book really wanders. It could have used a better editor. Another issue is the author feels the need to absurdly name drop ("I was having coffee with so and so in a coffee shop in Palo Alto") and of course has to mention numerous times he studied at Stanford and did a sabbatical at Harvard. It's a good book, not great.
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