The whole point of accumulating knowledge--and this is true for all species--is to be able to anticipate what might be happening the next minute, the next hour, the next day. And humans have the unique ability--we think it's unique--to be able to think retrospectively and prospectively, not just second-by-second, but weeks, even decades and millennia forwards and backwards. So, we accumulate all this knowledge. We build this mental model of the world. Again, this is very well documented by neuroscientists. We have a mental model of the world by which we actually go into any situation and we anticipate what we are going to see. And the brain, which is assaulted by so much information all the time, without doubt it ignores, it dumps anything that looks familiar and instead focuses on what might be new in an environment. That's why--[?] is able to figure out what threats are, for example--so, something new. So, what this has to do with our inability to attend very much, what we perceive as our shortening attention span in the digital age, is that we haven't got the filters yet in our brains to filter out such an assault on our brains--such a demand for our attention all the time that digital devices, the demand of us, essentially. And in the case of, severe cases--and I talk about this in the book--people like that actually cannot even develop a sense of--they don't understand cause and effect. They don't understand narrative. They actually feel kind of lost. They can't figure out how life works, because there's no pattern that emerges. They can't--there's no ability to extrapolate a general meaning from any particular. And that's a very serious memory affliction. And, you know, that happens to individuals. But culturally, this culture of distraction means that we are going to be very crippled in understanding long term patterns in this digital age.
And that's why I talk about these "bleeping devices". We need to be able to take in a certain amount of information, and then we need to be able to process it. I mean, scientists have said this processing of short term memory, dumping what's not valuable and turning it into valuable long-term memory--that can take--well, we have to have a good night's sleep; a lot of it happens when we sleep. And sometimes it can take up to months. So, we know very well that people whose attention is constantly interrupted, just like their sleep is interrupted, have chronic problems with developing long-term memories.
Two of three are too distracted to learn at the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris
23 June 2016
A fascinating insight into our crippled thought processes: