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Why can’t we pay more attention?

STOLEN FOCUS
Why you can’t pay attention – and how to think deeply again
By Johann Hari

LOOP
How technology is creating a world with no choice and how to resist
By Jacob Ward

Johann Hari’s book “Stolen Focus” and Jacob Ward’s book “The Loop” discuss how technology and modernity are negatively and chronically affecting our brains and behaviour. They focus on the individual’s experience of living in this moment, and how modern technology is limiting our individual choices and conceptions of freedom and consciousness. These well-researched surveys draw attention to key concerns while avoiding simple recommendations for self-improvement.

In “The Loop,” Ward, an NBC technology reporter, argues that artificial intelligence in particular not only predicts our actions but increasingly dictates our actions, narrowing the scope of our actions. our choices and imprison us in an automatic existence.

Ward describes three interlocking metaphorical loops. The first loop is inside of us. He offers a fascinating survey of the known spectrum of human biases that hinder the way we think about things, even when we convince ourselves we have. The second loop includes technology that automatically pokes our bruises, triggering in-play actions based on the weaknesses described in the first loop, such as a propensity for risky behavior like gambling. Finally, the outermost layer describes how we are not only driven into short-term behavior by such technology, but have also become something of a global sheep-behaviour, determined entirely by what to sue.

For the background, Ward gives a short history of AI, focusing on how people own and implement algorithms measure their success. He also rejected Silicon Valley’s usual assumption that AI will always do a good job. Recent examples from police use of pre-trial risk assessments and facial recognition should make us rethink, as Ward suggests, total trust in AI. Then again, those examples suffer from another human bias, the agent-observer bias, which makes most people think surname will not soon be targeted by such systems.

So Ward is fighting an uphill battle, and although he tries to make it feel real, not all of his examples work. For example, he uses the famous story of Dr. Dao on United Airlines Flight 3411 to illustrate how people are psychologically attracted to AI. someone to change flights, but no one took the offer. (Why not $1,200? $4,000?) They changed tactics, using an opaque algorithm to choose Dr. Dao as the loser. When he refused to go, he was mortally wounded as he was removed by the Chicago Air Police.

The author wants us to think that this is proof of the Loop closing for us, that the algorithm is so important in removing choices from us, and that it seems inevitable. But I don’t consider this example a harm to the algorithm, even if I care why it chose Dr. Dao. The damage to Dr. Dao comes from a combination of the normal social shutdown that characterizes every plane ride and good old-fashioned police power. I guess it wouldn’t make any difference if that person was chosen at random by the chief flight attendant.

Another place where the Loop comes in, in Ward’s view, is in a system called CoParenter, an app used by divorced parents, that offers suggestions to keep the tone scheduled. dignified and dignified. The author fears that children will have long-term consequences when they observe parents ignoring actual conversation in favor of automated habits, but we must contrast and compare that with violence and abuse. use that the children can Not are observing.

“Stolen focus” addresses more causes but for one goal of concern: namely, how distracted we are. Hari divides the many causes of our lack of attention into two categories: too much and too little. Too much information, stress, monitoring and manipulation as well as ADHD diagnoses. Not getting enough sleep, reading novels, staring at your belly button and eating nutritious food. He doesn’t claim algorithms or even digital technology is the sole culprit, as the “information overload” has been haunting us and diminishing our focus for a while.

Each potential cause is questioned in its own chapter, and all of them contain interviews with researchers in the chosen topic. Some of the chapters are inspirational, such as the one that focuses on the concept of flow, the kind of focus that leads to a quasi-hypnotic state where time dissolves and thoughts take hold. Even just focusing on attention for the time being is helpful and will ultimately provide readers with a novel and worthwhile way to measure the quality of our attention.

Since the author prioritizes research, it’s fair to clarify a bit about the data. He spends a lot of time talking about the rising ADHD diagnoses (and medications), but it’s unclear if it’s because of a new problem or just a newly noticed way of dealing with an old problem. . Another example involves sleep. It’s not clear that we sleep less than before mediumespecially since Disease started. That doesn’t mean we’re sleeping well, of course, and the grief and horror of having to live through a pandemic may have curtailed our ability to recover from even a longer night.

That brings us to the blind spot of “Stolen Focus”. It appears to have been written largely in Before Times. So the feeling of being hooked on Zoom, the single biggest contributor, makes me personally feel unfocused, unresolved, even though perhaps the research has only just begun.

What both books are true of is that the problems they raise are systemic and that much of the solutions offered consist of selfish, personal advice that only the privileged can give. can follow. Indeed, at the intersection of both books is the Stanford MBA and tech entrepreneur Nir Eyal, who has written two books. The first, called “Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products,” has been used by many companies to – you guessed it – make our technology habits more addictive. The second, printed with the same canary-yellow cover, is titled “Indistinguishable: How to Control Your Attention and Make Your Life Choices,” in which he offers advice to individuals. to stay focused in a world full of distractions. They can also be a two-volume series on how to build a system that is so profitable, so annoying, so addictive, and so distracting that people will pay you to teach them how to get around it.

As both authors make it clear, Nir Eyal and people like him – the well-paid architects of this system – will not be embarrassed and will not change.

If we are looking for hope, I have two suggestions. The first is that we consider what transcendence might look like, if resistance were futile. It’s a tough time for kids today, but it makes sense that our young people are more understanding, more critical and better focused in extremely distracting conditions than their parents. of them. Let’s hope so.

Second, while all the problems these books face are real, they are part of a much larger problem, that of capitalism itself, or at least the dynamics of capitalism. that it created for people like Nir Eyal. To solve that means turning to even bigger, less personal dilemmas, like the way automation quickly replace entry-level jobsor private equity in use automatic expulsion algorithm to optimize profit on hundreds of thousands of houses, creating a homeless and jobless bottom layer in its wake. The technology of running away is here, and in many ways it’s worse than a lack of focus or willpower – but if we can connect the two, maybe we have a chance to improve. his future.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/books/review/stolen-focus-johann-hari-the-loop-jacob-ward.html Why can’t we pay more attention?

Fry Electronics Team

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