According to the sociologist Frank Furedi in a recent essay for Aeon, today’s anxiety about not being able to focus is just another manifestation of a long-standing pattern:
The first time inattention emerged as a social threat was in 18th-century Europe, during the Enlightenment, just as logic and science were pushing against religion and myth. The Oxford English Dictionary cites a 1710 entry from Tatler as its first reference to this word, coupling inattention with indolence; both are represented as moral vices of serious public concern.
Often the failure to inspire and capture the imagination of young people is blamed on their inattentive state of minds. Too often educators have responded to this condition by adopting a fatalistic approach of accommodating to the supposed inattentive reading practices of digital natives
I found another curious term for distraction: “leaky sensory gating,” as used in a study from Northwestern University examining “why the inability to shut out competing sensory information while focusing on the creative project at hand might have been so acute for geniuses such as Proust, Franz Kafka, Charles Darwin, Anton Chekhov and many others.”