Minding Our Minds   /   Summer 2014   /    Minding Our Minds

How We Lost Our Attention

Matthew B. Crawford

© Lee Woodgate

The standard for truth is relocated: It is no longer found out in the world, but inside our own heads.

We are living through a cultural crisis of attention that is now widely remarked upon, usually in the context of some complaint or other about technology. As our mental lives become more fragmented, what is at stake seems to be nothing less than the question of whether one can maintain a coherent self. I mean a self that can act in the world according to settled purposes and ongoing projects, rather than flitting about. The way we tend to view this problem is that our mental autonomy is at risk.

This is all true enough. But I want to suggest that the experience of attending to something isn’t easily made sense of in the language of autonomy, and that if we want to understand the current crisis, we will have to find another way to think about attention.

To read the full article online, please login to your account or subscribe to our digital edition ($25 yearly). Prefer print? Order back issues or subscribe to our print edition ($30 yearly).