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The Attention Movement – Something’s Stirring

Months ago, Cali Williams Yost had a wish. In her FastCompany blog, she hoped that Distracted would start an attention movement similar to the new environmentalism sparked by Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. And indeed, wherever I speak, people everywhere are asking, ‘where do we start? How do we regain our focus and spark the ‘renaissance of attention’ that you describe in your book?’

Well, that nascent movement just may be starting to pick up speed. Some signs:

 People are talking. There are debates and discussions everywhere about our crisis of distraction. At work, people are drilling down into the roots of overload. At home, parents aren’t smiling much anymore about their kids’ addiction to texting. A new study showing the inefficiencies of multitasking is inspiring heated debate. (See my previous post on the research.) This is important. It’s time to come together and focus on the problem. That’s how solutions get sown.

 People are acting.  A Seattle University communications professor recently held an innovative faculty workshop on the impact of distraction on student life. Professors everywhere are frustrated by a chronic lack of attention in the classroom. But organizer Mara Adelman coaxed the discussion beyond griping and finger-wagging.

At the workshop, faculty talked about setting up clear, firm rules on tech use in class and holding kids accountable – no attention, no recommendation. But faculty also did a lot of soul-searching, according to the wonderful website that Adelman set up to keep the momentum of the event going. They talked about collectively working through “technoquette” issues, role modeling focus in their lives, and reminding one another and students how opportunities for connection and conversation are lost amidst epidemic distraction. One faculty member wrote later, “I used to complain about distraction but never spent time to analyze this problem. This workshop made me sit down and find ways to control distraction in my personal life and in the classroom.”

This is exciting, and it’s not a one-off example. I’ve heard of others crafting training events based on my book and other resources. Add to this the uptick in both state and employer bans on driving distracted, and I see the makings of a 360-degree movement.

Write to me if you have ideas on how to move the process forward!

PS – Check out this great blog post by Andrea Saveri, one of my favorite thinkers, on multitasking and the often overly simplistic discussions that erupt when we debate about the impact of technology on our lives. Hear, hear!



Leave a Comment


  1. Sep 16, 20099:15 am

    Making bad choices about how to focus our attention isn’t the only problem. There’s some leftover primitive “wiring” in the human brain that makes us far more distractible than we ideally should be. So, despite all we know about the value of undivided attention, it’s hard for us to stay focused even when we decide that’s exactly what we should do.

    A clinical psychologist, I’ve devoted much of my career to developing a way for people to achieve greater control over their attention so they can maximize their effectiveness. I developed a simple electronic tool called a MotivAider ( that automatically keeps its user’s attention focused on any chosen objective. With their attention continuously focused on whatever they choose, users have been able to achieve a wide range of previously unattainable goals.

  2. Sep 29, 200911:20 am
    John Lynch

    I wish the PBS site digital nation would take notice of Distracted and Steve Talbott’s book “Devices of the Soul”. It seems that they are whole heatedly jumping on the “technology is the answer” bandwagon, without much content being devoted to its negative aspects, especially in terms of learning. This isn’t something I would have expected from PBS. I think the fact that more people aren’t disturbed by the erosion of attention caused by technology is more disturbing than the erosion of attention itself.

  3. Sep 29, 200911:50 am

    I am a fan of Talbott’s work and write about my conversations with him in my book, Distracted. He’s a great thinker whose work should be more widely known. We can only hope that conversations about technology in the U.S. begin to get past the “good vs bad” level, and into a more nuanced discussion of the impact of these devices on our lives. Thanks for your comment!

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