WSJ.com - Portals:Technology Has Us So Plugged Into Data, We Have Turned Off "A new plague of inattention is spreading. It's called "surfer's voice" -- a habit of half-heartedly talking to someone on the telephone while simultaneously surfing the Web, reading e-mails, or trading instant messages.
On one end of the phone is an annoyed colleague or family member discussing an important topic. On the other end, a party puts on a meager soundtrack of knowing participation: "OK ... uh-hum ... right ... OK." It is punctuated with surreptitious tapping of a keyboard.
The brainy people who study these things call this phenomenon "absent presence." For years, researchers have discussed how cellphones have trampled over the once communal public space of sidewalks and restaurants. The idea is that we may be physically on a street corner, but our distracted minds are not. We do little bits of everything, and none well.
A convergence of technologies is making the distractions still worse. A new kind of personal computer called the Media Center allows users to easily watch TV on the same screen where they swap instant messages and burn music DVDs. And Asian cellphone companies have begun building television tuners into their most advanced models.
How we manage these relationships between technology and people is a growing source of anxiety. It's depressing, but somehow fitting, that convergence now allows us to be distracted from our distractions.
Prof. Levy, however, sees surfer's voice as more than a technology issue. He says the distraction is the result of the failing of a culture that rewards mindless information saturation. He engages in daily meditation sessions to help clear out the cobwebs, but admits he, too, is addicted to the information that floods onto his PC and on his Web browser."