Sex, Jogging and the iPad: Lost in distraction

Electronic book reader laying outdoors

I have to confess. Seriously. I have to confess you about my working habits. My working habits are a great challenge for me (and my boss) because I am not working, instead “I am actually distracting myself from work. I notice these days that I can spend hours at my computer, in a cloud. A swampy blur of digital activity, smeared across various activities and media and software. Emailing, writing, tweeting, designing, browsing, taking calls, Skyping, Facebooking, RSS Feeding – all blurred into a single technological trance. I seem to switch randomly from one to the other.” [1]

The Swiss physicist and philosopher Eduard Kaeser explains this habit with an example by himself: “Multitasking. We are hardly in the Web; the temptation is stirring to do just not what you have to do. We are browsing, blogging, chatting, googling, texting, twittering as the persecuted. I saw it the other day, ironically, by writing this text. I did what tens of millions of desktop-workers do today. I googled for a small article about multitasking, thereby discovered three other relevant articles that interested me. While printing them, I checked my e-mails en passant, glanced at the website of the „New York Book Review“ and stucked on an essay by Amartya Sen on an entirely different issue. The running jazz program on the radio presented simultaneously an interesting Italian pianist, whom I liked so much, that I looked him up at iTunes, found various pieces of him, bought them immediately, downloaded them and burned them onto a CD. Rather than continue working on the article, I began to hear the music, not without telling me at the same time on the website of the pianist about his biography and discography. Before I knew it myself, my main attention was scattered on two or three adjacent lanes. I was not able to gain back my concentration on the original work. I call this ‘Cogitus interruptus’.” [2]

McCandless hits the nail on the head: This habit is fancy, addicted, devastating. I could not describe it better.

Is there a remedy for us hypersurf lunatics? Kaeser recommends two agents, unfortunately both not much appropriate in library settings: sex and jogging. But there is a third agent, even better: The iPad. And it’s perfect for the office! I actually managed to read Kaeser’s pretty long text in one piece without interruption and distractions on the iPad! That speaks well for the author but even more for the device. Due to the singularity of the applications and open windows, the iPad/iPhone (much like the printed book) creates an almost distraction-free interface, a space with a single focus. [3]

In order not to get “lost in distraction”, I need a lot of motivation. The best motivation for me are deadlines. I would never finish this column without strong deadlines. As a friend of mine used to say: “You have to create constraints for yourself” …

[1] David McCandless “The hierarchy of digital distractions” Information is beautiful 8.9.2009
[2] Eduard Kaeser “Cogitus interruptus: Googeln, Bloggen und Twittern“ NZZ am Sonntag, 31.5.2009
[3] Adam Hodgkin: “Why the iPhone is a better Reading Environment I” Exact Editions 8.5.2009

This article was published in the September issue 2011 of the JEAHIL.

Foto: © andreykr by

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