Writing for BBC News, Damon Young warns against seeing distraction as a modern problem:
Over a century ago, philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche described his harassed peers. "One thinks with a watch in one's hand," he wrote in 1887, "even as one eats one's midday meal while reading the latest news of the stock market".
Yet Nietzsche didn't blame clocks or markets. "We labour at our daily work more ardently and thoughtlessly than is necessary to sustain our life," he wrote in his Untimely Meditations, "because it is even more necessary not to have leisure to stop and think. Haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself."
In other words, the technologies were certainly aiding distractions - but they weren't providing the urge. This, said Nietzsche, was human, all-too-human.
Centuries earlier, philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal put this very succinctly. "The sole cause of man's unhappiness," he wrote, "is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room."For Pascal, like Nietzsche, man was a restless, jittery creature, always looking for distractions from life.... At distraction's heart aren't silicon chips, but an unwillingness to confront very human issues: pain, boredom, anxiety. Distraction certainly has neurophysiological underpinnings - physical bottlenecks of sense, response and cognition. But these often work because we allow ourselves to be managed by machines' rhythms and logic.