Book Review: The Distraction Addiction, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang

Every once and a while, a book comes along at exactly the right moment in time. The Distraction Addiction: Getting the Information You Need and the Communication You Want, Without Enraging Your Family, Annoying Your Colleagues, and Destroying Your Soul, was just such a book. This one first crossed my radar when Kim posted about it as part of her 100 Days of Books project, and her description immediately leapt out to me:

The Distraction Addiction starts with a good question: “Can we stay connected without diminishing our intelligence, attention spans, and ability to really live?” I like this approach because it addresses both the positive (more connections) and the negative (more distractions) ways that technology impacts our lives. Unlike many books about technology and the mind, Alex Soojung-Kim Pang doesn’t suggest we should get rid of our phones or go off the grid. Instead, he advocates for a more mindful approach where we make deliberate choices about how to engage with our devices and the world. This is one of my favorite books on the subject that I’m due to re-read soon.

It was Kim's insistence that Soojung-Kim Pang doesn't push for removing technology completely that sold me; I've started too many books, articles, or podcasts about technology use and distraction that demonize technology. But after struggling with ways to balance my reliance on technology (I can't just unplug my email completely, as I use it for work, and I do find many aspects of social media beneficial, even when I complain about the "black hole" of the internet), I was drawn to the premise and promise of The Distraction Addiction.

Kim was right; The Distraction Addiction is refreshing in its acceptance--even celebration--of technology, and the many ways it can make our lives more meaningful, more connected, more efficient, and more serene. What Soojung-Kim Pang offers is advice for "contemplative computing": ways to connect with our technologies that are meaningful and effective, rather than distracting and draining. Whether this be the recognition of "email apnea" (holding our breaths while we wait for a page or inbox to load) or the suggestion of the occasional "DIY Digital Sabbath" (a set period of time spent pursuing "aggressively analog" activities), all of The Distraction Addiction is backed by hard research science, as well as interviews and anecdotes from various users of contemplative computing methods.

There's no one solution to our reliance upon, and distraction by, technologies--and Soojung-Kim Pang is careful to emphasize this. But The Distraction Addiction offers a thoughtful and well-thought out argument for more mindful use of our devices, allowing us to better use technology to our advantage. This advice comes as a healthy mixture of scientific research (including neuroscience and psychological studies), high-level thinking about things like meditation and mindfulness, and small, actionable to-dos around software recommendations ("zenware") and usage behaviors (Digital Sabbaths). The result is a surprisingly compelling narrative around the intersection of brain science and computing that is bound to leave you rethinking your relationship with your computer--and perhaps more specifically, your phone--on some level. More importantly, however, it convinces us that resetting that relationship is not only desirable, but doable. So let's go forth and do it.


The Distraction Addiction, by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang | August 2013 | Little, Brown and Company | Buy from an independent near you

No comments

Thanks for stopping by!