Book review Rapt sustaining our focus in the age of Twitter 2009: Book Review

Book review Rapt sustaining our focus in the age of Twitter

Book review The Washington Post Winifred Gallagher Don't check your e-mail stop Twittering, browsing, Facebooking, eating, drinking, listening to music and watching the children.

Take seriously, if just for a few minutes, what Winifred Gallagher describes as the grand unifying theory of psychology: Your life is the sum of what you focus on. Then consider the main implication of this theory: The skillful management of attention is the key to happiness and fulfillment. Live the focused life. Such methods might be necessary to combat the pull of technological innovations, many of which sap our capacity for sustained focus. Gallagher notes that young people in America spend more than six hours a day tethered to the electronic world, many of them engaged with more than one medium at a time. Spending an hour doing just one thing &8212 such as reading a book or practicing a musical instrument &8212 may soon be the equivalent of wearing spats. As Gallagher puts it, if you grow up processing information at a superficial level, "when you're finally forced to confront intellectually demanding situations in high school or college, you may find that you've traded depth of knowledge for breadth and stunted your capacity for serious thought." The attentional puritans are right that we usually do best with total focus. But often it's more efficient, and more fun, to do two or more things at 80 percent capacity than one thing at full capacity. I listen to music in the gym, check my e-mail while I'm on hold, and walk and chew gum at the same time. And what's so wrong with any of that Nobody should doubt the power of rapt attention, but there are benefits to a wandering mind. You can check your e-mail now.

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