Science Book a Day Interviews Matt Richtel

matt-richtel

Special thanks to Matt Richtel for answering 6 questions about his recently featured book – A Deadly Wandering: A Tale of Tragedy and Redemption in the Age of Attention

Matt Richtel is a novelist, cartoonist and Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for the New York Times based in the San Francisco. He writes about technology, its impact on society, and how it changes the way we how we work, play, and relate to each other. His 2010 series, ‘Our Brain On Computers‘ focuses on how constant use of our devices impacts not only our behavior but our thought processes and even our neurology. His 2009 series about the dangers of multitasking while drivingwon the Pulitzer for national reporting. – From Matt’s Homepage

Matt’s Homepage: http://mattrichtel.com
Matt’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/mrichtel

#1 – What was the impetus for A Deadly Wandering?

A simple, powerful and nearly unprecedented disconnect: 95 percent of people say texting and driving is so dangerous it’s like drunk driving, but more than 30 percent still do it. Why? What is so powerful about our devices – what do they do to our brains – that we are drawn to them even in the most precarious situations? The answers astonished me. It had to be written.

#2 – What made you choose a narrative format for your book? What made Reggie Shaw’s case so compelling?

To me, story is everything. As a reader, I care foremost about plot and, even more so, character. Absent these things, nonfiction generally bores me. When the narrative thrives, I’ll read and learn about everything and anything. Similarly, as I writer, I didn’t want to spend years on a subject that put me to sleep. I wanted to be engaged writing a thrilling story, and I hope I’ve done so.

#3 – Has much research been done on how attention is influenced by technology? Were you surprised by what you found?

Not just surprised, but, as I wrote above (at the risk of repeating myself): astonished. As I learned from the world’s top scientists, going back decades, the puzzle pieces revealed just how habituating (even addictive) our devices, and also why. That “why” is so important because it not only tells us something about our devices but tells us a lot about us, what drives the human condition, how it is being served, enabled and enslaved by our gadgets.

#4 – Is the legal system catching up to the implications of technology on driving (or even walking)? Are some countries leading the way?

I’m not an expert on other countries. But my passing knowledge is that some are more advanced, by far, than the United States as a whole. As to whether the laws are catching up here, the answer is both “yes” and “no.” Laws banning texting and driving have been quickly adopted by most states. That said, they’re not working. The behavior thrives. Plus, new technology allows more and more multitasking behind the wheel. You can watch a movie, update your status, etc. Lawmakers and policy makers are grappling with big forces: major corporations that want to make a buck from the behavior, citizens who want to be left alone with their devices, scientists who can show how clearly distracting the behavior. So far, the scientists aren’t winning the day.

#5 – What has been the response from those in law, psychology and even just everyday drivers?

Everyday drivers say it’s dangerous but do it anyway. Policy makers, per above, seem to feel hamstrung. Psychologists and other scientists, more and more, feel both frustrated and intrigued; frustrated by the lack of willingness of people to change behavior and intrigued by what we might learn from the powerful lure of our devices. It offers researches a great jumping off point to understand what drives us, especially now that we can use tools like real-time MRI to look into the brain.

#6 – Are you working on any new projects/books you can tell us about?

I’ve got a new high-tech thriller coming out in February. It’s called the Doomsday Equation. The elevator pitch: ‘What if you knew the world was going to end and no one believed you?’ This is a story about a tech genius who has created a computer program that predicts the onset of war. He’s also a jerk. He’s alienated all the investors and the cadre of followers who had made him a Silicon Valley darling. So when his computer tells him that global nuclear war is three days and counting, there’s no one left to tell. February 24, Doomsday.

[Image Credit: https://mattrichtel.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/devilpicture11.jpg ]

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