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The World Beyond Your Head

On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction

By Matthew B. Crawford
16-minute read
Audio available
The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford

Our world has changed enormously in recent years. We’ve developed amazing technology, but this technology has also taken a toll on many important aspects of our lives: our attention spans, our relationships and even our personalities. The World Beyond Your Head (2015) is all about the modern crisis of attention and how you can extract yourself from it.

  • People frustrated with the modern world
  • Those who spend too much time on social media
  • Anyone who wants to improve their concentration

Matthew Crawford is a philosopher and motorcycle mechanic. He’s also a contributing editor at The New Atlantis and a senior fellow at the University of Virginia’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture.

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The World Beyond Your Head

On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction

By Matthew B. Crawford
  • Read in 16 minutes
  • Audio & text available
  • Contains 10 key ideas
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The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction by Matthew B. Crawford
Synopsis

Our world has changed enormously in recent years. We’ve developed amazing technology, but this technology has also taken a toll on many important aspects of our lives: our attention spans, our relationships and even our personalities. The World Beyond Your Head (2015) is all about the modern crisis of attention and how you can extract yourself from it.

Key idea 1 of 10

We’re currently living in a crisis of attention.

In the modern world, we’re constantly surrounded by attention-demanding technology – phones, laptops, iPads – which makes it almost impossible to focus. Thanks to this environment, we’ve developed a need for constant mental stimulation.

This need has a big effect on what cognitive psychologists call our orienting response. The orienting response is what makes us pay special attention to anything that enters our field of vision. We evolved this important survival instinct to help us avoid predators.

The problem is that these days, new stimuli pop into our field of vision every few seconds! And we’ve gotten so used to this constant stimulation that we actually crave it, even when it’s not important to us.

The fact that we take our ability to pay attention for granted adds to the problem. Attention is crucial to how we interact with the world; it’s what enables us to think and create.

But our attention span is inherently limited. In this era of Big Data, ads and bits of news flash at us constantly, an overwhelming barrage of information. And for those who grew up in a different “attentional landscape” – that is, adults who grew up without this constant stream of information – it may be even worse.

We also generally engage less in activities that demand a lot of attention these days – and it’s impoverishing our lives. Paying attention is a skill you build, by doing things like reading a book from cover to cover, something people today do less and less.

Certain skilled practices like repairing bikes or sewing are also on the decline. We just don’t have the patience for them anymore, preferring to spend most of our time engaged in activities that occur inside our own heads.

But attention is crucial; it’s the secret ingredient that allows us to thrive. In fact, studies have shown that children able to control where they direct their attention are more successful in adulthood.

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