Book Roundup: The Distracted Mind

‘The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World’ By Adam Gazzaley and Larry D. Rosen
(The MIT Press, 2016)

We have all missed a train because we were busy talking on the phone, just as we have all failed to listen to a friend because we thought our phone might be vibrating in our pocket. 

We are distracted by technology every day, and this increasing disturbance can be frustrating. You might feel powerless at times, a slave to your smartphone, or perhaps you feel inadequate because you get sidetracked each time you set out to complete a task. In “The Distracted Mind,” Gazzaley and Rosen explore why, scientifically speaking, we are so easily distracted, addressing how we can work to better function in a technology-ridden world. Their argument is simple: Our daily goals far exceed our cognitive capabili-ties. There are just too many fundamental limitations to our ability to process infor-mation, and with technology providing endless distractions, we spread ourselves too thin. We were not programmed to work in an environment saturated with informa-tion, and it’s somewhat comforting to hear that we are not to blame for our own shortcomings in our perception, attention, or memory. Throughout the book, the authors strike a nice balance between historical background, scientific study results, and real-world examples. It never reads too technically, nor too anecdotal. 

By the end, you will find yourself more aware of the ways we all multitask and, more often than not, how we try to convince ourselves that we can multitask effectively. Gazzaley and Rosen also do well to address the variability in distract-ibility between individuals with certain cognitive deficits (like Alzheimer’s or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder) and healthy individuals at different ages. The authors offer a comprehensive series of recommendations for how we can all improve our executive functions; guidelines that, among other things, include meditation and exposure to nature, physical exercise and cognitive exercises, and improving the Western educational system. “The Distracted Mind” is an enlighten-ing and encouraging tale of our percep-tion, attention, and memory, and I highly recommend it to anyone experiencing frustration at the hands of their iPad. 

The Spring issue of Brainworld Magazine is out! Check your favorite newsstand or book shop for a copy. Links to digital articles will be uploaded as soon as they are set. 

Alex Siegman