In 2006, Matthew Crawford wrote an article in the New Atlantis magazine entitled “Shopcraft as Soulcraft”. It is here. My friends and I who are believers in the benefits, if not necessity, of working with the hands on tangible objects, loved it. He followed with a book of the same title in 2008. I have never met him, but think I should because I have been working on a similar book (working title Making, Fixing, and Tinkering) for several years. I am far from a full time writer— partly due to necessary hobbies involving working with my hands— so I don’t know when I will finish. But I have suspected since I saw his original article in the New Atlantis that we think along similar lines.
Now I am sure of it, because I just encountered an article he wrote in the Sunday Review Section of the March 8, 2015 edition of the New York Times entitled “The Cost of Paying Attention”. The article was based on another book of his that is forthcoming entitled The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. The article from The New Atlantis is here. I am excited about reading the book when it appears, and will comment on it in a future post.
The article in the Times has to do with the constant distractions we have from such things as television, print, digital devices, and marketeers. He uses the example of the difference in feelings and ability to think or focus on specific activities in the lounges associated with upper class flying, and the general waiting areas, which are papered with advertisements and filled with noise and other distractions. His final short paragraph summarizes his thoughts: “I think we need to sharpen the conceptually murky right to privacy by supplementing it with a right not to be addressed. This would apply not, of course, to those who address me face to face as individuals, but to those who never show their faces, and treat my mind as a resource to be harvested”
To me, an example of distraction is social networking.. When I retired from active professoring in 1999, the internet and mobile phones and computers were not nearly as central to life on the campus. But realizing that I was not yet dead two or three years ago, I figured that I had better catch up to our culture, and that social networking was a part of it. So I joined Facebook, Twitter, and Linked in. I linked to a few close friends, and was immediately overwhelmed. I had not realized the capability of these “services” to find people I knew in the world and harangue me about linking to them. Neither did I realize the number of people I did not know in the world who wanted to link to me for reasons of possible employment, support for graduate study, a source of contacts, or simply to better brag about their number of “friends”.
I enjoy writing posts to this blog, and sending it to a relatively small number of people by way of twitter and facebook, because it keeps me thinking about issues in which I am interested. But I do an embarrassingly poor job of responding to comments, adding information to my sites, accepting new “friends” and “contacts”, or otherwise following the etiquette of being linked to hundreds of thousands of people. I am impressed with people who do so, although at some point it seems to require an assistant, if not a staff to keep up with all of this communication. But I have more rewarding projects to do than I will ever finish, am constantly finding new activities that are rewarding, and I certainly don’t want an assistant or staff. Social networking, although seductive, I consider to be an attention pirate. And even e-mail has joined the list. I seem to be spending more time making filters to trash information I don’t want than I do dealing with messages of value to me.
Advertising is another evil. There are of course the ads that interrupt TV programs, and the pop-up ads on the internet. And I should apologize to the New York Times, because a couple of weeks ago I wrote a gentle rant against their “new” format for the Sunday magazine. I could not stand it. It was mostly advertisements for the usual luxury goods, and almost impossible to read because of out of control graphics —distractions. To my amazement and delight, the very next issue had moved back toward its traditional format —back to a reasonable weight, articles whose continuation could be reasonably easy to find, graphics that did not disrupt the flow, and a reasonable amount of advertisement. Perhaps the New York Times was simply making a quick chunk of money by selling ad space to the people who usually advertise in their ridiculously thick supplements on such things as Fashion and Travel, which consist most of ads. Hopefully they were influenced by a large number of readers like my wife and I (and friends) who were thinking of canceling their subscription because of the issue that contained their “new” magazine format.
And what’s with grocery stores? Next time you enter a “super market” pay careful attention to the advertisements. The good news, is that your mind will soon refuse to do so. The bad news is that if it did not, you would undoubtedly run into a shopping cart containing a couple of babies and being pushed by a shopper on their smart phone, either communicating with their spouse on what to buy or texting their friends, and end up in a hassle.
I am eagerly waiting for Matthew Crawford’s new book. Meanwhile I will re-think my interaction with social networking.