I just came across a 2008 book, Distraction: A Philosopher's Guide to Being Free, by Melbourne-based philosopher and writer Damon Young. Young seems to be a kind of Australian Evan Selinger, an academic philosopher who's turned to writing for a popular audience. I'm keen to have a look at it, because he develops an argument that
distraction is more than too many stimuli, or too little attention. It is actually a matter of value – to be distracted is to be torn away from what is worthwhile in life.... [W]hat is most worthwhile is freedom: not simply rights or legal liberties, but the capacity to patiently, creatively craft one’s own life.
Here's an excerpt of the book in The Age:
All very sensible.
BlackBerry in the bedroom, mobile phone calls on the porcelain throne, wireless hotspots in the cafe - this is distraction 21st-century style: we can't give our attention to what's worthwhile because we're drawn to the mysterious allure of the machine.... We're certainly capable of doing otherwise. But what's so striking is that we so frequently don't, because our psyche is quietly captured.[T]echnophobia isn't the answer. From the majesty of the Egyptian pyramids to the intriguing beauty of modern cinema, technology has enabled some of our finest achievements. And machines are crucial to our modern way of life. Any attempt to return to a pre-modern paradise would mean giving up everything from long-distance travel to word processing and cancer research.
To recover from the distractions of the technological age, what's required is a more ambitious relationship to our tools - one that promotes our liberty instead of weakening it. If we can't escape technology, we can certainly enforce its limits, and our own. We can defer to the comforting noise of iPods, or we can seek moments of quiet attention and reflection. We can accept the stress of 24-hour availability, or we can reclaim our own rhythms. (I can answer the mobile phone, or savour Ithaca's salt and cyclamen.)
At the heart of these choices is a concern for what's humanly valuable: what encourages vitality, creativity, liberty, and perhaps even happiness. There are no simple tricks for achieving this; no quick fixes. We have to step back from urgency and familiar habit, and reconsider what we want from life, and why. We have to give up on the easy necessities of technology, and forge some of our own. We must be what the unthinking machines can never be: the custodians of ourselves.