Embracing Distraction

In The Future of Reading by Camilla

Second screening has become a part of our everyday language, acknowledging the fact that the modern human being has a tendency to getting distracted while doing something. That something usually being TV, streaming or other formats of the moving pictures. But what if we started implementing, willingly, the urge to second screen into other formats such as books?

I know, for one, very well the feeling of that ‘just need to check this’ while actually trying to concentrate on a book. Not to mention the hole I tend to fall in, whenever I’m looking up a reference online: It starts very harmless with the dictionary, Wikipedia or an encyclopaedia but more often than not ends up with me browsing through irrelevant but endless posts in social media, the latest news or yet another video of a floating otter (you’re welcome!).

While this has been something I’ve tried to eliminate from my life, especially in periods where it’s crucial that I find that undisturbed concentration, it also got me thinking: What if we constructed books in a way that embraced this ‘distractional’ way of reading, inviting these detours into the reading as a way of acknowledging the well-known fact that most people can only concentrate for 12 minutes at a time? (Which reminds me: Researchers found that due to smartphones people now have a shorter attention span than goldfish!)

Especially, whenever I’ve read non-fiction I find my distractions to be – sometimes! – beneficial and sometimes even leading the way to that one great idea. An old professor of mine used to tell us to love our procrastination exactly of that reason.

At the moment I’ve only noticed attempts to fight distractions: apps that will turn off our internet, cutting access to social media, or even making us kill trees whenever we get distracted. But I believe this is the wrong path to take. Fighting the influence of social media, the internet etc. is not a fight apps such as these will ever win. They may be beneficial for a while (believe me, without them I probably wouldn’t have finished my master thesis), but in a longer perspective, books need to outsmart our primitive urges to see if we’ve missed out on anything for the past 3 minutes.

Given the many possibilities with digitalisation, constructing books that implemented small exercises, derivations or something third that stimulated this modern attention span (or lack thereof) seems, to me, to be one of the ways to reinvent reading, making books an inspiring new medium that not only was a mediator of knowledge but also a cultivator of new ideas and inspiration.