I hear it at least once a week now. The words shimmer with urgent relevance. Maybe it’s because I’m listening for it, but I hear many people exasperated at the glut of information being presented and extracted from us. How do we navigate our relationship with various media without becoming a tool of the tools presented to us?
Distraction is one salient word describing our relationship with information these days. In overwhelming moments, the onslaught of news, entertainment, and communication distracts us from daily tasks or even from pausing to absorb the information as it passes by in our “feed’. We find books with this title particularly relevant, lining the featured book shelves in our libraries (for example, Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long, The Thinking Life: How to Thrive in the Age of Distraction, and The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction). People blog about it at length (for example, “A Diet of Distraction” on Unfiltered and “Demons of Distraction” blog and me!). Why is the distraction so disconcerting? Does new media distract in a qualitatively different way, or was this sort of distraction a problem before computers, before television, before newspapers? Who is responsible for the distraction we experience?
We can ask many interesting questions, but we can ground ourselves with one line of questioning in particular. Let’s question the basic axiom that we have a problematic relationship with communication technology. If it is not truly problematic, then we idly ask the other questions.
From the title of this blog (“Info Wrangling”) to this series of posts, I assert that our relationship with communication technology is problematic. Why do I think that? These days, I can distill it down to questions of human and ecological dignity. I ask myself the human dignity questions every day. Am I using the tools at my disposal in a way that treats my fellow humans as instruments? Am I okay with that? Are they okay with that? Am I engaging with technology in a way that makes me a tool used for someone else’s ends? Is that use of my energy acceptable? Am I respecting myself while I live distractedly in my digital feeds? Am I living purposefully within my community while the feeds distract me?
Insofar as our answers to these questions are unacceptable, let’s explore how to live imaginatively and avoid being simply the tools of tools.