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Distracted-- the Coming of a New Dark Age; Rob Kall Interviews author Maggie Jackson

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I think we say, oh it's all changed and yeah, it's true; the changes are radical.- But that doesn't mean that we have to accept all of this.- It's not a matter of fate that we become twittered beings or that teens have to text message twenty-three hours a day.- It actually isn't and there's a lot of pushback.- I think that's really true.-

As far as depth is concerned, there are two ways to change, to shift and it doesn't have to be that difficult in some ways.- First, there's your individual skills of attention, which, as you rightly point out, can be changed by our environment.- Our brain is plastic, the environment shapes us; this is news or this was news.- It's revolutionary.- People in old age grow new neurons, etcetera.- So, the brain is plastic.- We are being shaped by this distracted, split-focused, interrupt-driven environment, but the flipside is that we can actually recover our powers of attention.- There's work being done in schools, psychiatrists, there's work being done with ADD people and people without attention deficiencies.- So, keep an eye on that.- That is going to be revolutionary-the changes in terms of how you harness and strengthen your powers of attention.- This is going to be like gym class, I predict, in schools kids will be taught to strengthen their attention.- And not just through meditation.-

Secondly, there's a collective social challenge before us.- It's not just our individual problem.- It's actually a societal problem.- For instance, when everybody brings their Blackberrys to the meeting at work now, there's a kind of collective social values system being exhibited.- If no one questions this, if no one pushes back, well then why are they even in the meeting?- They're giving half their brain and half their attention to whatever problem drew them to the meeting in that room.- We have these value systems""the first hand up in the classroom is the smart kid, the successful business tycoon is the guy or gal who can't even listen to those around them because they are running at great speed all day long with half an ear and half an eye out to everything that is going on around them.-

Thirdly, why is it necessary that public spaces are laden with screens?- There is no quiet, there is no silence.- Well, we've allowed this and we've sort of perpetrated a cultural value related to attention that we can actually shift and change.- So I think we need to put this topic on the table.- It's incredibly important for democracy.- How can you have a distracted citizenry, less and less able to, or willing to, wrestle with nuance, satisfied with easy answers, unable to comprehend the future?- That's what attention deficiency is all about.- The great ADHD researcher, Russell Barkley, calls ADHD a "disorder of attention to the future."- It's a disorder of time, simply because, without attention, you can't gain perspective, you can't plan, you can't look ahead.- Attention is an enormously complicated set of skills that allow human beings actually to be higher order human beings.-

Rob Kall:-You've raised some interesting thoughts for me.- For many years, I was very involved in the world of ADD and ADHD because I ran conferences on the brain and on neuro-feedback, which is all about teaching people the skills of attention.- Giving them tools instead of drugs.- Which is what Barkley, by the way, pushes primarily.- He has over the years gradually moved to a less combative position on empowering people with behavioral skills, but for the most part, he has supported the use of prescription medications.-

I like the idea that Thom Hartmann described.- Now, Thom in recent years has been a political talk show host, but before that, he was one of the top-selling authors of books on attention deficit disorder and his model was that people who had ADD were hunters in a farmer's world.-

Maggie Jackson:-Oh yes.- Well, many people have had that theory, yes.-

Rob Kall:-Well, he described it first though.- And afterwards, it was just reinvented at Johns Hopkins.- To me, what's interesting about that is this is a pre-civilization idea.- The people who were the best at surviving in this hunter's world were minimalized in our civilized world because to succeed you have to in some ways shut down the openness to all the things going on, which is what a hunter does.- So, attention is an interesting thing.- And not necessarily having a diffuse attention, being able to look all around you and see all the stuff going on, which is what a hunter needs to be able to do, and then be able to track and focus.- A lot of people with ADD are really good at hyper-focus, like playing video games.- Right?-

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