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Paying Attention in the Information-Overload Age

In her new book, Winifred Gallagher thoroughly makes the case that our lives -- and the people we are -- are a product of what we choose to focus our attention on.
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You're sitting in a conference room with a table full of coworkers. As you're discussing a pressing issue, everyone is simultaneously typing on a laptop, subtly checking their email, Facebook and Twitter accounts, pounding their thumbs on a blackberry, or reading a text message on their vibrating cell phone -- all in the name of maximum productivity.

Productive? Winifred Gallagher, who calls multitasking a myth, would disagree.

In her new book, Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, Gallagher thoroughly makes the case that our lives -- and the people we are -- are a product of what we choose to focus our attention on. Please check out my full review-in-cartoon-form of Rapt here.

Psychologist Barry Schwartz, quoted in Rapt, sums up our modern predicament: "On the one hand, you've got to defend your limited cognitive resources so you can attend to what really matters. On the other, you can't just tune out. You need to find a way to be part of society as it is without being weighed down by all the claims on your attention it imposes."

In the digital age, we seem to be under constant bombardment from distractions, and it can be head-spinning.

"It's not a coincidence," Gallagher points out, "that the term distracted once referred not just to a loss or dilution of attention but also to confusion, mental imbalance, and even madness."

"Unless you can concentrate on what you want to do and suppress distractions," she adds, "it's hard to accomplish anything, period."

Gallagher, whose previous titles include The Power of Place, Spiritual Genius, Just the Way You Are, and Working on God, is no stranger to writing about that which can improve our lives. Rapt extends well beyond workplace efficiency to topics such as relationships, decision-making, creativity, general health and attention disorders.

Gallagher concludes that all areas of our lives can be improved simply by taking the time and energy to focus.

"Paying rapt attention," she explains, "increases your capacity for concentration, expands your inner boundaries, and lifts your spirits, but more important, it simply makes you feel that life is worth living."

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