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Divided attention spans and creativity

Posted Oct 18 2010 4:27pm

“It’s hard to focus. It’s hard to have a conversation without checking the iPhone. It’s hard to go to a shrink and spend a few minutes on the couch and not need to see what’s happening…. It’s even hard to finish a thought.”

That is a quote from the article A creative retreat in the digital age (by John Lopez, the Los Angeles Times) from author Gary Shteyngart , whose “Super Sad True Love Story” “imagines a dystopian future eerily reminiscent of our present world, one in which invasive social networking threatens his characters’ sanity and their souls.

“To research the book, the reserved novelist had to break down and buy an iPhone.”

The article has a number of other perspectives, such as:

“Clifford Nass, a Stanford  professor in communication and author of the book The Man Who Lied to His Laptop: What Machines Teach Us About Human Relationships has made a specialty out of researching how multitasking saps focus.

“His recent studies have demonstrated how chronic multitaskers are unwilling or unable to focus on one thing, even when they are required to. His research has convinced Nass that such divided attention spans adversely affect creativity. ‘Creativity is hard work. It’s focus. Really struggling with a thought, rather than lying back and letting it just appear.’”

Chris Coy, in the MFA program at USC’s Roski School of Fine Arts, comments: “The Internet is our existence now, and it is our duty to question the use of it — artists can help to facilitate ways of showing that.”

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The photo of a very young user of an iPad is from a video in my post Hilda Huang on Bach and video games; Gina Trapani on multitasking .

In her FastCompany / Work Smart post Stop Multitasking and Start Doing One Thing Really Well, Gina Trapani warns, “Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can multitask jobs that need your full attention… You’re juggling. When you juggle tasks, your work suffers AND takes longer–because switching tasks costs.”


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