A comprehensive journalistic exploration of our culture's flagging ability to pay attention, infused with the personal struggles and insights of a woman coming to terms with the demands and distractions of the information age. Attention examines our lives ruled by distraction.
Written in the aftermath of quitting the drug, which she begin taking in college, this book expands on Schwartz’s New York Times Magazine article 'Generation Adderall' to examine attention as both a concept and an action, especially in our smartphone-obsessed era ... With fascinating research and illuminating interviews, this is ruminative, provocative, and discussion-worthy.
The problem with having such a great title is that it’s a lot to live up to ... I enjoyed the memoirish opening chapters, and happily went along as she starts an intellectual exploration of her subject, delving into the work of William James and his peers ... The journalistic adventures are somewhat more problematic ... Attention is written from the perspective of the (mostly) recovered addict, and there is a wonderful moment that encapsulates what was lost by starting the drug, and then regained by going off ... When Schwartz turns her attention to the tech gods of the West Coast (not a group known for their sense of humor), my interest waned ... The writing gets a bit flat. I put the book down ... In the book’s last chapters, the personal reasserts itself dramatically ... In the last pages, the pineapple Life Savers per-line ratio happily jumps. After working through the drama of her father, she takes a magnificent if arduous train journey across India with her mother ... In this closing passage, the book’s subject...shines through.
...a sprawling, comically unfocused study ... the book steps away from straightforward memoir and starts flailing, taking up whatever aspects of attention that can hold Schwartz’s own. The narrative caroms between the science of A.D.H.D. to the promise of psychedelics in aiding focus to wan descriptions that feel grafted from Wikipedia on the work of David Foster Wallace, Simone Weil and William James, all of whom were consumed with the difficulty and holiness of attention ... [Schwarz] tells us one thing, shows us another; we finish her book having gorged on trivia but finding basic questions unanswered ... Instead, pointless, pallid excursions pad out the narrative: generic, listlessly described psychedelic conferences and ayahuasca ceremonies ... celebrity anecdotes feel like gaudy bids for our interest — strange in a book that has, in its meandering way, argued for just the opposite approach.