Curiosity or distraction?

Consider the words we use to describe the result: human error, distraction, lack of attention, sloppiness–all negative terms, all implying the inferiority of people. Distraction, in particular, is the byword of the day–responsible for everything from poor interpersonal relationships to car accidents.

Curiosity: It’s a natural human trait. My curiosity frequently leads me to insights that have helped me in my career. So why is this wonderful, creative trait of curiosity given the negative term “distraction”?

—Dan Norman, in ‘Why bad technology dominates our lives

Cognitive scientists (I am one) have long known that the human nervous system is very sensitive to changes in the environment. As a result, we are naturally curious. This sensitivity keeps us alert to environmental changes, both good and bad, that might affect us. It also allows us to notice novel patterns and opportunities. Curiosity is a great source of creativity, as studies have shown.

Curiosity is, on the whole, a virtue. We have evolved to be curious. Our nervous system is especially sensitive to change, and changes in the environment attract attention. But the technology-centered view labels this natural, creative trait as a liability: Curiosity is renamed as distraction. A human virtue is now turned into a liability.

 

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