Finding It Hard to Focus? Maybe It’s Not Your Fault

Finding It Hard to Focus? Maybe It’s Not Your Fault


A classmate, Jake Rochford, who chose Tinder, noted the extreme stickiness of a new “super-like” button. “Once the super-like button came into play, I noticed all of the functions as strategies for keeping the app open, instead of strategies for helping me find love,” Mr. Rochford, 21, said. After completing that week’s assignment, he disabled his account.

But Dr. Seaver, 32, is no Luddite.

“Information overload is something that always feels very new but is actually very old,” he said. “Like: ‘It is the 16th century, and there are so many books.’ Or: ‘It is late antiquity and there is so much writing.’

“It can’t be that there are too many things to pay attention to: That doesn’t follow,” he said. “But it could be that there are more things that are trying to actively demand your attention.”

And there is not only the attention we pay to consider, but also the attention we receive.

Sherry Turkle, the M.I.T. sociologist and psychologist, has been writing about our relationship with our technology for decades. Devices that come with us everywhere we go, she argues, introduce a brand new dynamic: Rather than compete with their siblings for their parents’ attention, children are up against iPhones and iPads, Siri and Alexa, Apple watches and computer screens.

Every moment they spend with their parents, they are also spending with their parents’ need to be constantly connected. It is the first generation to be so affected — now 14 to 21 years old — that Dr. Turkle describes in detail in her most recent book, “Reclaiming Conversation.”

“A generation has grown up that has lived a very unsatisfying youth and really does not associate their phones with any kind of glamour, but rather with a sense of deprivation,” she said.

And yet Dr. Turkle is cautiously optimistic. “We’re starting to see people inching their way toward ‘time well spent,’ Apple inching its way toward a mea culpa,” she said. “And the culture itself turning toward a recognition that this can’t go on.”



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