June 17, 2015

A New Theory of Distraction

The pleasure we get from being distracted is the pleasure of taking action and being free. Distraction is appealing precisely because it’s active and rebellious.

Why do so many writers find distraction so scary? The obvious answer is that they’re writers. More generally, distraction is scary for another, complementary reason: the tremendous value that we’ve come to place on attending. The modern world valorizes few things more than attention.

Behind the crisis of distraction, in short, there is what amounts to a crisis of attention: the more valuable and in demand attention becomes, the more problematic even innocuous distractions seem to be.

Joshua Rothman in The New Yorker