Until the 1820s (when candle technology started to improve markedly), both wax and tallow candles needed frequent "snuffing." We commonly misunderstand the term snuffing today -- it did not mean to put a candle flame out; instead, it meant to trim the candle's wick. If one did not snuff frequently, then the wick would grow longer as the wax melted, curving over toward the small wall of solid material holding in the melted wax or tallow. The curving wick would then melt the wall, causing the molten material to flow down the candle and be lost. This phenomenon was called "guttering," and it ensured that the candle burned less efficiently and for a shorter time. Tallow candles left unattended might use just five percent of their material and gutter out within half an hour. ...the point is that reading was regularly interrupted -- perhaps every ten minutes or so -- by the need to snuff a candle.
This was in relation, I assume, to my musing over whether or not other ages were as distracted as we, but just differently so.
Point nicely made. I had assumed as much, and go on assuming that there are additional examples of how BB peoples (Before Blackberries) had much on their minds.
About the only way I can think of really measuring a change in the level of distractedness, is by applying it to myself over the course of my lifetime. Am I more distracted at 40 than I was, say, at 16 or 25? I'm not sure. I feel more harried at times, yes. But very little of that has to do with the state of my tools and media choices. It's more about having a kid and a job that has more responsibility than I had at 16 or 25.
And I certainly remember being pretty distracted, harried and hyper-busy in college, even though I had no access to MySpace, IM a cell phone or email.
So I don't know if the delta-frantic in my life is an age thing or an Age thing. And I don't know if all people, throughout history, have either felt, in general, more hectic and pressured as their lives have progressed, or if it's a symptom of our Modern Age.
I have, as I see it, one choice: to master the tools and skills that I feel are helpful, and to limit my interactions with those that I feel are distracting.
Which brings us back to the box. Which we'll get to shortly.
  Eliot, Simon (2001), "'Never Mind the Value, What about the Price?"; Or, How Much Did Marmion Cost St. John Rivers?" Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 56, No. 2, pp. 173, 177.