Imagine, you’re at work, in a normal office, with a steady to-do list of things to do. You happen to glance down at your phone. There are 3 emails in your personal email and a Facebook notification saying that your friend just tagged you in a post. Without hesitation, you relieve your work computer of all your attention and are enthralled with quickly finding out what the post is on your phone. You boss would call this a distraction.
These distractions have implications on nearly every aspect of society. Today, we have so many different things we can give our attention to. In his well-written book, Infinite Distraction, Dominic Pettman discusses issues surrounding modern-day distraction surrounding new media from a critical perspective. Referencing some of the great minds in academia in emerging media such as McLuhan and Postman, Pettman is clear to not simply label emerging digital media as something that is negative on society. This is not to say that he doesn’t point out many of the negative issues.
Pettman uses teachings from philosophers such as Freud to explain the rationale behind human behavior and the allure society finds in it. This idea of the “burden of consciousness” is a great way to understand the way in which most people avoid the real issues in the world around us. Modern social media is a perfect distraction to avoid the troubles of every day life. The algorithms we are exposed to through Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., almost know the user better than the user knows themselves.
Pettman offers some hypothetical solutions. However, I found his offerings to be lacking. In the beginning of the book, he mentions Postman’s critical view. Postman writes about the issues of society’s need to be entertained, and those desires are deeply rooted in the development of television. In his book, Technopoly, he says that anyone who “practices the art of cultural criticism must endure being asked, what is the solution to the problems you describe?” and this should motivation for all researchers in this field.
Postman, not unlike Lippmann, at the end of the most of their influential writings conclude that our education must be better. In the aforementioned book, Technopoly, Postman proposes the development of a curriculum that teaches the humanity’s development. As a former public-school educator, I am a firm believer that with better, more thorough curriculum teaching young people the complexities around emerging media and their own relationship with the online space will create a society that can further think critically about their actions and rise above them if necessary.
Based on my own observations, average users are largely ignorant to the habits they develop and the impact it has on society and their own personal development as a contributing member in society. I can not yet say exactly what future curriculum should look like regarding these issues along with media literacy education, but with books, such as Pettmans, we can see change is necessary. That change will come from better formal education.
Pettman, D. (2016). Infinite Distraction. Polity Press.
Postman, N. (1993). Technopoly. First Vintage Books.