The Business of Distraction

“Google, as the supplier of the Web’s principal navigational tools, also shapes our relationship with the content that it serves up so efficiently and in such profusion. The intellectual technologies it has pioneered promote the speedy, superficial skimming of information and discourage andy deep, prolonged engagement with a single argument, idea, or narrative. ‘Our goal,’ says Irene Au, ‘is to get users in and our really quickly. All our design decisions are based on that strategy.’ Google’s profits are tied directly to the velocity of people’s information intake. The faster we surf across the surface of the Web – the more links we click and pages we view – the more opportunities Google gains to collect information about us and to feed us advertisements. Its advertising system moreover, is explicitly designed to figure out which messages are most likely to grab our attention and then to place those message in our field of view. Every click we make on the Web marks a break in our concentration, a bottom-up disruption of our attention – and it’s in Google’s economic interest to make sure we click as often as possible. The last thing the company wants is to encourage leisurely reading or slow, concentrated thought. Google is, quite literally, in the business of distraction.” The Shallows, 156

This quote from The Shallows sums up one critical part of what my written thesis and my work is really about. The Internet cannot be viewed as a neutral force because it is being used and shaped by entities that have only their own goals in mind. Were this to be all I focused on, I could see some kind of pitchfork and torches moment where I urge everyone to rip out their wi-fi routers and ethernet cables. But instead, I see this as much more of a public service announcement. The Internet is already engrained in our society, and barring anything unforeseeable, there is no going back, and the truth is that its high points are a continual benefit to the world. So, surf with caution. Browse with a grain of salt. Click deliberately. And take a moment to pause and take in your surroundings, even if they are digital. Your brain will thank you.

Speaking of Distractions
Sometimes I think best after I have been sufficiently distracted from the task at hand. That can take the form of a game (Carcassonne, Kingdom Builder, Survive!…) or a tv show/movie, but tonight it was baking. I enjoy cooking immensely, and most nights I cook for my wife and I. However, I’m not much of a baker, so this afternoon I expanded my horizons a bit and made a Vanilla Pecan Danish Puff Pastry. I must say, I’m pretty proud of myself.

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