Book Summaries
The Distracted Mind

The Distracted Mind

The Distracted Mind is written by Adam Gazelley, head of one of the best neurology research facilities in the world: Gazelley labs. Together with psychologist Larry D. Rosen, the book is based on the PBS special under a similar name.

How does attention work?

Neurology is the study of the brain trying to understand itself. The human brain is a remarkable instrument of 3 pounds with more neuron connections than there are stars in the observable universe. Our entire reality changes depending on how we focus the light of our attention. Our proficiency in setting goals is possible through what is widely known as 'executive functions. They help evaluate, decide, organize, and plan. But they are only half of the battle for self-determination. The other half is 'cognitive control,' and it is the main focus of this book. Besides goal-setting abilities, humans need goal-enactment abilities.

Cognitive control is a function of the following three substrates: selective attention, working memory, and goal management. Unfortunately, interference inducing behaviors have become widespread after we transitioned into the high-tech world of today. As we get accustomed to computers that can perform parallel processes – doing multiple things at the same time efficiently and effectively – rapid task-switching (or what others erroneously call 'multitasking') has exploded correspondingly and we are all the poorer for it.

How does technology induce goal interference?

Most employees respond immediately after a message has been received. about half (43%) respond immediately to every email, and 73% respond immediately to every text. It takes on average, 10 minutes to respond and 10 minutes to get back at the task at the same performance level as when it was left, resulting in 20 minutes spent on each incoming email. As we all know the emails never stop. On average 2 hours of the working day are lost on reading and responding to them. But this all relates to the workforce. Is our personal life affected as well?

What some call The Social Dilemma, could also be called the 'Interference Dilemma'. In the information-saturated world that we inhabit today, no technology has proven to be more disruptive than the internet.

What is the internet exactly? This question can be answered in many ways but one of the most accurate answers would be: it's anything, anywhere, anytime. After the birth of the internet, social network sites rose to the occasion, but it wasn't till the later adoption of the smartphone that tech 'sealed the deal'. People now bring with them their little computers in their pockets everywhere they go for the entirety of their waking life. Daily they check it over 150+ times and tap it around 23 hundred times as they use it 43% of all instances in order to 'relieve boredom'.

On average, people spent 2hrs and 19min a day on social media alone. This does not represent the 4hr/day that most tweens (10-14) teens (15-18) use it, but if it would, it will cost them over the span of their lives 6 years and 11 months -- best case scenario.

With the rise of modern-day technologies, anxiety has increased 20 fold over the last decade. Out of all people, one out of every five people will now suffer from an anxiety disorder somewhere during their life. More specifically, now half of 18 to 20-year-olds do already suffer from an anxiety disorder. This level of pervasiveness may be surprising to some till one realizes the form of this anxiety is something we hear about every day: Fear-Of-Missing-Out, or FOMO.

How can I aid my Distracted Mind?

In the Distracted Mind, a novel theory is proposed based on the Marginal Value Theorem (MVT) which describes the cost-benefit relationship of remaining in a food patch versus moving to a new patch. As one animal jumps from one to the other, so do we jump from one activity to another.

With this model, the increase in boredom and anxiety levels can help explain our new behavior of rapid task-switching. Relieving these emotions, coupled with better meta-cognition and decreased accessibility can pave the path toward liberating our attention.