We Are Hopelessly Hooked — Jacob Weisberg, New York Review of Books

“Tech companies are engaged in “a race to the bottom of the brain stem,” in which rewards go not to those that help us spend our time wisely, but to those that keep us mindlessly pulling the lever at the casino.”

“In describing what they’re doing, many of her subjects fall naturally into the language of substance abuse, abstention, and recovery. People colloquially describe sessions online as getting a fix, or refer to disconnection from social media as detoxing or going cold turkey. The industry can’t help talking that way either, about “users” and “devices.” The toll of technology is emotional rather than physical. But the more you read about it, the more you may come to feel that we’re in the middle of a new Opium War, in which marketers have adopted addiction as an explicit commercial strategy. This time the pushers come bearing candy-colored apps.”

Addicted to Distraction — Tony Schwartz, New York Times Magazine

My initial commitment was to limit my online life to checking email just three times a day: When I woke up, at lunchtime and before I went home at the end of the day. On the first day, I succeeded until midmorning, and then completely broke down. I was like a sugar addict trying to resist a cupcake while working in a bakery.

They’ve Got You, Wherever You Are — Jacob Weisberg, New York Review of Books

More from Weisberg on silicon valley’s sinister engineering efforts aimed at capturing our attention … for their own benefit.



To Save Everything, Click Here: The Folly of Technological Solutionism — Evegeny Morozov

Arguing that we badly need a new, post-Internet way to debate the moral consequences of digital technologies, To Save Everything, Click Here warns against a world of seamless efficiency, where everyone is forced to wear Silicon Valley’s digital straitjacket.

Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age — Sherry Turkle

Based on five years of research and interviews in homes, schools, and the workplace, Turkle argues that we have come to a better understanding of where our technology can and cannot take us and that the time is right to reclaim conversation. The most human—and humanizing—thing that we do.

The virtues of person-to-person conversation are timeless, and our most basic technology, talk, responds to our modern challenges. We have everything we need to start, we have each other.

The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction — Matthew B. Crawford

In his bestselling book ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft,’ Crawford explored the ethical and practical importance of manual competence, as expressed through mastery of our physical environment. In his brilliant follow-up, The World Beyond Your Head, Crawford investigates the challenge of mastering one’s own mind.  

We often complain about our fractured mental lives and feel beset by outside forces that destroy our focus and disrupt our peace of mind. Any defense against this, Crawford argues, requires that we reckon with the way attention sculpts the self.

Crawford is thinking deeply about the issues raised regularly on Digital Detachment.  His work is well worth engaging with.

Changing the Subject: Art and Attention in the Internet Age — Sven Birkerts

Birkerts has allowed a degree of everyday digital technology into his life. He refuses to use a smartphone, but communicates via e-mail and spends some time reading online. In Changing the Subject, he examines the changes that he observes in himself and others―the distraction when reading on the screen; the loss of personal agency through reliance on GPS and one-stop information resources; an increasing acceptance of “hive” behaviors. “An unprecedented shift is underway,” he argues, and “this transformation is dramatically accelerated and more psychologically formative than any previous technological innovation.”

Deep Work: Rules For Focused Success in a Distracted World – – Cal Newport

A must read for anyone interested in digital detachment.  Newport makes an incredibly clear and compelling case for digital media’s disastrously-distracting effects on our ability to conduct valuable “deep-work” activities.  (As opposed to much less-valuable “shallow” work activities.)  The book is chock full of actionable advice for cultivating deep work habits … the very essence of staying detached in a distracting world.

On Looking: Eleven Walks With Expert Eyes — Alexandra Horowitz

In which the author roams the streets of cities, mainly New York, with a series of experts on subjects ranging from geology to animals to audio to blindness.  It’s a bit of a slow burn, but the layer upon layer of fascinating insights into the hidden character of the everyday cityscape are worth spending time with.  An “eye-opening” read for anyone interested in the study of human attention.

Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked  — Adam Alter

I think in another generation there are three staples of current American life that will in hindsight look very much like cigarettes do now … 1) sugar 2) sitting at our desks all day and 3) addictive tech products.

I liked Alter’s characterization of addiction: “The definition I go with is that it has to be something you enjoy doing in the short term, that undermines your well-being in the long term — but that you do compulsively anyway.”

Bingo.  Or, perhaps blackjack. Or Jack Daniel’s. Or Marlboro.  Or binge watching in bed the night before a big meeting.  Or checking email 45 times per day… Etc…


Art of Manliness Podcast Number 215: On Becoming and Individual in an Age of Distraction – Interview With Matthew B. Crawford

Host Brett McKay and author Crawford discuss Crawford’s recent book, which asserts that “the culture of distraction we face runs much deeper than that and actually began several hundred years ago with the Enlightenment.”


“When I am, as it were, completely myself, entirely alone and of good cheer — say, traveling in a carriage or walking alone after a good meal or during the night when I cannot sleep — it is on such occasions that my ideas flow best and most abundantly.” — Mozart

“When it comes down to it, the whole enterprise of technology is to turn all nature into a mass of of completely obedient and predictable stuff.” — Alan Watts

“At times the whole world seems to be in conspiracy to importune you with emphatic trifles. Friend, client, child, sickness, fear, want, charity, all knock at once at thy closet door and say,—’Come out unto us.’ But keep thy state; come not into their confusion. The power men possess to annoy me I give them by a weak curiosity. No man can come near me but through my act.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.” — Henry David Thoreau

“SMART … Surveillance Marketed As Revolutionary Technology.” — Evgeny Morozov

“Smartphones haven’t made us happier, but they’ve made us less aware of our unhappiness  … There is no dark night of the soul anymore that isn’t lit with the flicker of the screen” — Andrew Sullivan

“Happiness is an imaginary condition attributed by adults to children and children to adults.” — Thomas Szaz

“In the past, you had really transforming technologies—like the flushing toilet—which did a lot more for mankind and economic growth worldwide than Facebook.” Stephanie Flanders on Robert Gordon’s ‘The Rise and Fall of American Growth

“There’s no sense in being precise when you don’t even know what you’re talking about.” — John Von Neumann