The widespread sense of homo distractus

The popular character of this diagnosis, summarised by Tim Wu on pg 6 of his Attention Merchants, poses the question of how we should treat it as common sense, in the Durkheimian tradition of skepticism about received wisdom. How widespread is this? To what extent does it misrepresent the nature of the problem? To what extent does it misrepresent the cause?

It is no coincidence that ours is a time afflicted by a widespread sense of attentional crisis, at least in the West—one captured by the phrase “homo distractus,” a species of ever shorter attention span known for compulsively checking his devices. Who has not sat down to read an email, only to end up on a long flight of ad-laden clickbaited fancy, and emerge, shaking his or her head, wondering where the hours went?

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