cover image Distracted


Maggie Jackson, , foreword by Bill McKibben. . Prometheus, $25.95 (327pp) ISBN 978-1-59102-623-5

In this richly detailed and passionately argued book, Jackson (What's Happening to Home?) warns that modern society's inability to focus heralds an impending Dark Age—an era historically characterized by the decline of a civilization amid abundance and technological advancement. Jackson posits that “our near-religious allegiance to a constant state of motion” and addiction to multitasking are “eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention—the building block of intimacy, wisdom and cultural progress” and stunting society's ability to “comprehend what's relevant and permanent.” The author provides a lively historical survey of attention, drawing upon philosophy, the impact of scientific innovations and her own experiences to investigate the possible genetic and psychological roots of distraction. While Jackson cites modern virtual life (the social network Facebook and online interactive game Second Life), her research is largely mired in the previous century, and she draws weak parallels between romance via telegraph and online dating, and supernatural spiritualism and a newfound desire to reconnect. Despite the detours (a cultural history of the fork?), Jackson has produced a well-rounded and well-researched account of the travails facing an ADD society and how to reinvigorate a “renaissance of attention.” (June)