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March 01, 2010


tn requin

I think a lovely antidote to this might be a few of the exercises from "Drawing from the right side of the brain." I'm thinking specifically of blind contour drawing of the lines in the palms of your hand--it takes you away, and can cause a shift of consciousness and of concentration. tn requin
tn requin
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Huzaifa Zoomkawala

- "To sit still and think...has become almost impossible"- Difficult possibly, but hardly impossible; I agree with the prescription I read somewhere to the effect that adapting to information overload simply requires 'better filters', and I take solace in the the arrival of filters happily keeping pace with the onslaught of content.

- "but also welcomed restriction as the basis for a proper engagement with a set of ideas" - They didn't have a choice.

Jonathan Alipate

It's true that on the whole people are becoming evermore distracted, but strangely enough, people today are more knowledgeable about the world they live in than at any other time in history.

The power to concentrate was brought about mainly by the written word. People spent tedious hours sifting through symbols, attempting to procure some meaning from them. Man adapted to this process of "reading", and consequently came into possession of an unnatural ability to concentrate for extended periods. The ability to set one's thoughts on a fixed subject for several hours was exceedingly difficult for preliterate human beings to imagine.

In the advent television, film and the internet, literature took a back seat in popularity; Consequently, the activity which demanded enduring concentration diminished in favor of the new high speed mediums. Children can go through several centuries of life's experiences in a few months thanks to film & television. The new mediums can engage the user's senses more completely than the written word, which is limited to black and white symbols, and thus are far more efficient and effective at conveying ideas and information. The whole point of writing was to record experiences and communicate ideas and information to people. Now that your experiences can be communicated more effectively and efficiently to others through video and audio, the necessity to read, and hence, to concentrate, has diminished.

I recommend "The Gutenberg Galaxy" by Marshall McLuhan if you haven't read it.

Molly Lynch

I recently read something that linked an inability to concentrate with a lack of green time, or time spent in nature doing nothing structured. I grew up with television, but not with the total barrage of electronic media that children have today. I remember spending plenty of time outdoors, without adults present, playing made up games or simply daydreaming. I wonder how much time children today have for that? As an elementary shcool teacher, I mainly hear children talking about television, internet, movies, and video games. The time they spend outdoors or doing unstructured things where their imaginations can come into play seems very limited. The impact on concentration and on creativity is probably enormous. I am raising my family without television, and so far without computers (my daughter is a toddler), and I already see a difference between the attention span that my daughter exhibits and her peers who watch quite a bit of t.v. already, and use computers a bit.

Ken Pemberton

I agree that there may indeed be an issue with concentration for some. BUT...I see issues with what you've written here.

Firstly, as time progresses we build and learn off of what has happened in the past. It is the collection of knowledge that gives us power and helps us to adapt and survive. Also, old certainties do get swept away (slowly), it's called the scientific method and again it is from the pursuit of knowledge and information that this happens.

Secondly, while it may be true that people don't let any one thing weight their minds for very long, one must realize that or minds are a collection of all experiences that have happened to us thus far. A work of art, architecture or other emotional stimulus will always have a greater effect in the near term than later. That's how churches, telethons and feed the children get you to donate more money.

Lastly, how can you draw the conclusion that people welcomed restriction based on the fact there were no printing presses and books had to be created by hand? If I were to hazard a guess as to why they might have only 3 books it would probably be because they didn't have much choice to begin with and the fact that they were expensive.

As to your last analogy about food. I agree with it somewhat. My personal belief is that all things should be taken in moderation. Or as I've heard others say, too much of one thing is bad for you. (Yes, even fasting.)

Marco Dante

As I skim Twitter and Facebook instead of engaging in other pursuits, I wonder what it is I think I might miss. When I scan through hundreds of jpegs or scroll past line after line of text, I can't help thinking that, when every thing is easily disposable and equally replaceable, nothing has any real value any more. Why are we afraid of the dark? Marco http://bipolarized.wordpress.com


"The painstaking craftsmanship behind a pre-Gutenberg Bible was evidence of a society that could not afford to make room for an unlimited range of works but also welcomed restriction as the basis for a proper engagement with a set of ideas.

Alain de Botton is currently working on a new book."

Love it.


Good morning Alain, I, among other activities, are a photographer. The picture taken is always different from the moment..........Love communicating & twitter is a Gr8 social medium...
How's London to live in? Never went there......Went to Oxford, Cambridge & the south....
I'm on twitter, no followers, co-operate...
Best wishes from SUNNY Aqualanda (Netherlands)

Academic, Hopeful

Big Al, your writing is so elegant.

William Thirteen

i have left your blog, vowing to reconsider my life in the light of this post's values!


I think a lovely antidote to this might be a few of the exercises from "Drawing from the right side of the brain." I'm thinking specifically of blind contour drawing of the lines in the palms of your hand--it takes you away, and can cause a shift of consciousness and of concentration.

Eliana Tomas

"We are continuously challenged to discover new works of culture – and in the process don't allow any one of them to assume a weight in our minds." - couldn't be more truthful.

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