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The World Beyond Your head by Matthew Crawford

November 4, 2017

Decreasing attention spans, shattered mental lives, an increasing sense of distraction – these are issues you’re probably aware of, especially if you already know the eerie feeling of walking down a street surrounded by zombie-like people hunched over their phones. The World beyond your head focus on the reasons why we are losing touch with the world beyond our heads, and explain how to become an individual in an age of mass distraction.This books also answers questions like what a crafts person can teach an office worker about attention;why actually being understood would stress out some managers; and why a narcissist might want to have sex with a robot….Sounds Interesting,Right?

According to Author,Technology has a dark side that we do not really see.According to him,we’re constantly surrounded by attention-demanding technology – phones, laptops, iPads – which makes it almost impossible to focus. Thanks to this environment, we’ve developed a need for constant mental stimulation.This need has a big effect on what cognitive psychologists call our orienting response. The orienting response is what makes us pay special attention to anything that enters our field of vision. We evolved this important survival instinct to help us avoid predators.The problem is that these days, new stimuli pop into our field of vision every few seconds! And we’ve gotten so used to this constant stimulation that we actually crave it, even when it’s not important to us.The fact that we take our ability to pay attention for granted adds to the problem. Attention is crucial to how we interact with the world; it’s what enables us to think and create.But our attention span is inherently limited. In this era of Big Data, ads and bits of news flash at us constantly, an overwhelming barrage of information. And for those who grew up in a different “attentional landscape” – that is, adults who grew up without this constant stream of information – it may be even worse.We also generally engage less in activities that demand a lot of attention these days – and it’s impoverishing our lives. Paying attention is a skill you build, by doing things like reading a book from cover to cover, something people today do less and less.Certain skilled practices like repairing bikes or sewing are also on the decline. We just don’t have the patience for them anymore, preferring to spend most of our time engaged in activities that occur inside our own heads.But attention is crucial; it’s the secret ingredient that allows us to thrive. In fact, studies have shown that children able to control where they direct their attention are more successful in adulthood.Including this point the top takeaways from this book are:

1.We’re easily manipulated – so much so that we often manipulate ourselves:When faced with a big decision, like which career to pursue or retirement plan to choose, what determines your choice? Economists tend to assume that we simply compare the pros and cons in such situations. But they’re sorely mistaken.Our behavior and the decisions we make are highly dependent on context. When we have a range of options to choose from, the way those options are presented matters a lot.Behavioral economists have studied the way people choose retirement plans, for instance. When looking for a plan, people don’t just consider whether a given plan is a good investment. An important detail that has a big impact on their decision is whether they have to actively opt in to a 401(k) plan, as opposed to being signed up for it automatically (with the option to opt out). There’s a much higher chance they’ll take a plan if they don’t have to opt in to it themselves.That’s why marketers are careful to present their products in certain ways. Companies pay extra for supermarkets to display their goods at eye level, for example, because people are more likely to buy whatever they see first.All in all, we’re easily manipulated. The good news is that you can even manipulate yourself to enhance your concentration!Craftsmen like cooks and carpenters do this all the time because they usually can’t afford to let themselves get off track. And they don’t just concentrate harder – they strategically create environments conducive to focused work.An experienced cook might arrange her ingredients in a certain order before she starts cooking, for example, and thus avoid losing time searching for them later.You can create a distraction-free environment, too, even if you’re not a craftsman. One strategy is to minimize all sensory input that might distract you from your goal.

2.Our technology simultaneously connects us to and estranges us from the world:The technology we’re surrounded by keeps us in constant connection with the world, right? Well, in some ways it does, but in others, it estranges us from it, too!Our devices are designed to be simple and user-friendly, to make our lives easier and more interconnected. The latest car models, for example, are filled with equipment designed to maximize the comfort of the driver and passengers.But these same technological tools pull us away from reality, too. In a high-tech car, for instance, you barely notice you’re in a car at all: the complex design minimizes the sensations of speed and danger.This dulled experience of the world has an effect on human behavior, too. As we’ve seen, our behavior depends heavily on how we perceive our environment, and we can’t fully perceive things when sensory input is dulled.Most modern consumers know very little about the inner workings of their electronic devices. Most people, for instance, couldn’t fix a broken washing machine. That’s why we have repairmen.Repairmen earn their living by tuning into the details of our machines. A repairman could fix a broken washing machine by assessing its problem and finding the root of it. “Smart” technology encourages us to do just the opposite; it’s made to be so simple to use that we don’t have to think about how it works.These days, few people want to become repairmen, cooks or craftsmen; however, such trades may actually hold the secret to happiness and freedom. A repairman comes to have complete control of his environment: his job depends on his ability to understand and control the materials and machines he works with.Having such control of your physical environment can be deeply satisfying – an excellent antidote to the feelings of helplessness and passivity engendered by the world of smart devices.

3.Both relationships with other people and the development of manual skills shape your individuality:No one lives in a social vacuum; you share your world with droves of other people. And it’s a good thing, too, because our social interactions play a major role in our mental development. Indeed, your social experiences aren’t yours alone.We all seek, in the social world, to be recognized as individuals. We feel validated when other people approve of or praise our actions. That’s what Hegel was talking about when he said other people enable us to “check” our own self-understanding.Economics works in a similar way. The price of a product or service isn’t only determined by a few mathematical calculations – it also depends on how much value we perceive it to have.Similarly, we need to be perceived positively to feel good about ourselves. That’s another reason specialized skills are so important: we get recognition for things we do well.A mechanic, for instance, seeks recognition from other mechanics, because the level of someone’s expertise can only be accurately assessed if the assessor is an expert herself. And when someone earns such recognition, he will feel more confident about his identity and chosen path.According to the sociologist Alain Ehrenberg, the uptick in depression cases in Western countries can be linked to the decrease in specialized skills. A few decades ago, it was much easier to construct a stable identity: skilled workers usually worked and lived in the same place for most of their lives. Today, however, we highly value flexibility and mobility, which means we’re encouraged to keep reinventing ourselves.This results in people struggling to establish a sense of self, which leads to their feeling lost and depressed.

4.Our personal relationships suffer when we diminish our individual differences:As we become more distanced from the physical world and more immersed in the abstract space of the digital world, our personalities and relationships become more abstract, too. Even now, a number of social customs are changing because of changes in the way we communicate.For instance, people shy away from expressing strong opinions these days. It’s just too risky, because people might disagree with you or get offended. Some people might even accuse you of being arrogant if you value your own opinion over that of someone else!A group of sociologists studied this in 2008, when they interviewed 200 young Americans about their values and morals. Most of them avoided saying anything too direct. Instead, they made vague statements about how opinions differ from person to person – that no one person can say with assurance what’s right and what’s wrong.Even managers hide behind fuzzy language in the workplace by employing vague corporate jargon. This allows them to avoid taking responsibility for their work, because if something is unclear from the get-go, it’s easy to blame negative outcomes on a lack of clarity.Our fear of stating real opinions has created an opinion-vacuum in the public sphere. We live in a state of colorless cohesion, forgoing our individuality by viewing ourselves as insubstantial parts of a mass public.Kierkegaard, the renowned philosopher, opposed this. He criticized what he called leveling, the egalitarian social process that erodes and denies the differences between individuals.Leveling is at work when parents seek to be friends with their children rather than standing as authority figures. Kierkegaard, on the other hand, wrote that meaningful relationships only arise between two distinct (and thus incomplete) people who need each other, like a teacher and student.

The modern world is saturated with distracting stimuli. Our technology has done us a lot of good, but it’s also eroding our ability to focus, develop skills, form and express our own opinions and connect with other people in meaningful ways. It has ultimately estranged us from the world it aims to connect us to, dulling our perception of our surroundings and even our sense of self. Fortunately, you can reconnect with the world beyond your head by honing your manual skills, creating constructive physical environments for yourself and engaging in social interactions instead of shying away from them. We aren’t meant to live in our heads – get back in touch with the real world and let this amazing book tell you how!!

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