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23 Dedham Avenue
Needham, MA 02492

There is a battle underway for your very soul.

Yea, verily, to this very day, it is a struggle to which even atheists are not immune.

And yet, we are largely unaware of the battleground on which we are besieged by the malignant forces of life in the 21st century.

The scene of the conflict is our attention, one of our most precious and finite resources, which is preyed upon by countless sources of distraction, including media and advertising, friends, noises, and other diversions, all of which pull us away from our more grounded and centered perspective.

Is it any wonder that modern marketing and political initiatives are called campaigns?

Driven by external stimuli, our attention is divided, fragmented, and we are left less able to attend fully to the things about which we are more ultimately concerned. Like when reading an article that matters to us, and our attention is hijacked by a photo collection of “The World’s 18 Weirdest Bridges.”

Image: Lucky Knot Bridge, Changsha, China, courtesy of

You may reply, so what? I enjoy the distractions and they help me feel better connected to the world. And there is nothing like an Internet cat video to take me away from the stresses of modern life.

All this is true. And add to that the hope, as we browse, for serendipity, the accidental stumbling on an article that could make a difference somehow in our lives. And yet, when does it go too far?

And who or what is in control? Underlying many divertissements, is there not often a subtle and devious marketing scheme that would steal our attention? Is this not a form of persistent petty larceny?

If you are what you eat, which means you are what you consume, is not our attention that which determines what we consume cognitively, and therefore the gatekeeper to our very identity? As Matthew Crawford writes in The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction, “The question of what to attend to is a question of what to value.” He continues:

Because attention is so fundamental to our mental lives, this widely felt problem presents a rare occasion when an entire society is compelled to ask anew a very old question: What does it mean to be human?

In this month’s Big Question Forum, we will attend to the question of attention. Do you agree that there is a battleground? Do you enjoy the struggle, or does it ultimately cause only greater stress? What do you do to self-regulate and regain control of your attention?

The session will be held Tuesday, Feb 27th at 7:30 in the parlor.