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The Age of Distraction

What do Bill Gates, a Jesuit priest, an award-winning filmmaker, and an author of books on Deadheads, chess, and pandemics have in common?  They all share Henry David Thoreau's yearning to live life more deliberately.

Twice a year, Bill Gates puts in a series of special 18- to 24-hour days.  These "Think Weeks" are totally focused, uninterruptible events that have taken place since about 1984.  Gates, fueled by Diet Orange Crush, uses them to ponder the future of Microsoft and technology.

Rev. Thomas Massaro is impressed that Ken Burns, in a recent commencement address, recognized that mobile technology distracts people and disengages them from one another.  Massaro says:  "If technology is rendering this sort of deliberate oblivion more likely, then let's unplug and make a choice for immediacy."  For he believes that it isn't so much about mobile technology as it is about human choices.

Bestselling author David Shenk has written about everything from kids' toys to the reinvention of agriculture.  However, he feels that his "tiny speck of immortality" has been earned by the inclusion of his phrase "data smog" in the Oxford English Dictionary in 2004.  The phrase refers to the sheer volume of readily available information that a person feels a desire or compulsion to deal with.  Often the result is a paralysis of analysis.

If these paragraphs and their linked sources strike uncomfortably close to home, consider a data fast.  Laptop, phone, PDA, newspaper, any sort of info-yielding device or object--off the scene for a substantial predetermined period of time.  If you're not quite ready to take that plunge, how about a data retreat?  While the data fast makes the infobabble go away for a while, the data retreat holds it at arm's length!


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