Journalism in a Culture of Distraction


news browsingHow many browser tabs do you have open right now? On most work days, I’m switching between at least eight. According to journalist Maggie Jackson, I’m not alone: Apparently, the average office worker changes tasks every three minutes. Jackson is the author of this year’s Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, and as the title suggests, she’s a bit worried about our tendency to divide our attention. In a recent interview with Columbia Journalism Review, she talks about how this distraction affects our ability to process the news.

Namely, it becomes difficult to fully absorb the news. We only process stories superficially when we try to juggle so many—we fail to “create knowledge out of data.” Jackson marshals plenty of studies to back up her claims, like one that found that people remember 10 percent fewer of a newsperson’s words when there’s a crawl on the TV screen. But she’s at her most compelling when she characterizes the problem and its effects in her own words.

For Jackson, the abundance of news stories is not necessarily the main problem, and neither is the profusion of technologies designed to get us news faster. The issue is the pride we take in our ability to multitask—we’ve “elevated it to a national pastime” and treat it “as a value system.”

The beauty of her analysis is that it allows us some room to change. We can’t really alter the fact that we live in an information economy, but we have some choice in our reactions to it. Jackson notes that researchers are just recently beginning to understand the science of attention, and she’s optimistic that their work will help us find ways to stay focused in a world that promotes distraction.

You can watch more of the interview below. Also check out CJR's feature on journalism and information overload here.

 Image courtesy of Mo Riza, licensed under Creative Commons.

10/22/2013 6:46:39 AM

I would agree that journalism is an external distration which involves people's mind fully in it. I've recently post an article about culture of distraction, you can read it here

Gina V
12/27/2008 2:37:22 AM

To say were on the cusp of a dark age is sensationalist codswallop. Things are changing, technology is changing, but the motivations that drive people are still the same. The example of workers switching tasks every two minuets is weak. So many new types of jobs have been created it is impossible to compare the work environment of today's society with that of previous times. If you talked to the workers involved in the survey, you would be likely to find many were doing types of work that simply did not exist 60yrs ago, or are in roles that have dramatically new skill sets. 60yrs ago where were the I.T. Staff, Web Designers, Database and Software Developers, Mobile Phone Sales Staff etc. 60yrs ago more people would have been involved in the types of work that require repetition and focus eg. Typists, File Clerks etc. Many of these jobs have been superseded by technology with the remaining skills incorporated into other positions. The attention that people pay to the news is a poor example of multitasking. TV News and web news is largely infotainment. News articles are not designed to convey unbiased information to the public, news articles are chosen on their entertainment value. Largely TV news is not local, it's not unbiased and it does not communicate information about issues which the average person could take action on. An individual is more likely to give more attention to news issues that require them to take some form of action eg. storm warnings, national emergencies etc. Does it matter weather children are multitasking when they are doing their homework? From test results it soon becomes easy to see what study technique is best for a particular student. How much multitasking a student should do while they are doing homework is determined by the individual. Email can maintain intimate relationships between people in a way that has never been seen before. For a very low cost individuals can communicate to each other immediately as eve

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