Who is Paying Attention? Yes, It Matters, Part 2

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Simone P. Joyaux, ACFRE is recognized internationally as an expert in fund development, board and organizational development, strategic planning, and management. She is the founder and director of Joyaux Associates. Visit her website here.

This is Part 2 of my previous column, “Who is paying attention?” Read part 1 here. I’m writing you a book review of Maggie Jackson’s Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. I’m hoping you’ll read this book. Please!

Quite simply, people don’t pay enough attention anymore. We’re distracted. Worse, we actually think all this distraction is okay.

Jackson talks about lots of issues, for example: the tools of our attention-deficient culture; virtual living and robots; the surveillance-based love of overly-connected parents; what it means to be human; the role of mobility in history and community; the evolution of history and the technology we use to record history. Distracted talks to us about memory and forgetting, brain science and psychology.

Jackson introduces us to Mike Posner, the greatest attention scientist of our time. A name to remember. And Posner tells us about the three pillars of attention: focus (orienting), judgment (executive function), and awareness (alerting). I’m not going to explain them. Read the book. But know this: Distracted describes these three pillars as the “networks of attention” and they are “our foremost means to shaping our lives”. These networks of attention “give us extraordinary ways to master ourselves and our environment, offering the key to growth, connection, happiness.” Let’s not lose them.

Here’s more; this from an article entitled “High-tech Addition Is Taking a Toll on the Brain,” published in the 06-08-10 International Herald Tribune. Scientists report the addictive behavior of people who simply cannot unplug. Apparently multitasking is a bit like our primitive fight or flight response: We respond to immediate threats and opportunities – and it gives us a rush. But research shows that multitasking does not make people more productive. In fact, “heavy multitaskers have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information…. [E]ven after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist.”

Apparently we’re rewiring our brains with all this technology. And the rewiring isn’t for the good. Just more distraction and less attention.

In Distracted, Jackson asks, “Do we yearn for such voracious virtual connectivity that others become optional and conversation fades into a lost art? For efficiency’s sake, do we split focus so finely that we thrust ourselves in a culture of lost threads? Untethered, have we detached from not only the soil but the sensual richness of our physical selves? Smitten with the virtual, split-split, and nomadic, we are corroding the three pillars of our attention: focus (orienting), judgment (executive function), and awareness (alerting). The costs are steep: we begin to lose trust, depth and connection in our relations and our thought. Without a flourishing array of attentional skills, our world flattens and thins. And most alarmingly, we begin to lose our ability to collectively face the challenges of our time. Can a society without deep focus preserve and learn from its past? Does a culture of distraction evolve to meet the needs of its future?”

In this attention-deficit world, what happens? Surface knowledge rather than depth. Limited thinking rather than depth of thought. Learning but not really. Social media as a means but also a substitute for genuine relationships and honest relationship building. Superficial conversations and shallow experiences. Erosion of trust. Narrowing connections.

What will we do in philanthropy and fund development? How can we gain the attention of our donors and prospects? How can they gain ours? How will we nurture relationships? How can we create extraordinary experiences?

How can we reduce the distraction in our own lives? How can we offer less distraction and more meaning to our diverse constituents? How do our organization, our employees, and our board get distracted and how can we re-focus?

Read Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age. This is the book that worries me the most. I think we need to talk about this. Are you ready?