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John Hanc, associate professor of communication arts, and John Hill, assistant professor of architecture, sat down with NYIT Magazine to discuss their latest works.
Hanc’s newest book, Organize Your Mind, Organize Your Life: Train Your Brain to Get More Done in Less Time (Harvard Health Publications, co-authored with Paul Hammerness, M.D., and Margaret Moore), looks at how to use the organizational power of the brain to make your life less stressful and improve efficiency.
Why did you decide to write a book about helping organize our lives?
Hanc: Our society is in the midst of what some experts call a “distraction epidemic.” All you have to do is look around the next time you’re driving and see how many people are texting or talking on cell phones.
How difficult was it to distill the neuroscience elements for a broader audience?
Hanc: I talked this through with my co-author. It was me questioning him in an effort to boil down some of these principles into English. For example, we describe a fire engine roaring down the street and how the brain reacts to this. I wanted to really break it down to show how we tune out other stimuli while the fire engine is passing, how we synthesize pieces of information from recent and long-term memory—about firefighting and so forth—and bring this to bear to the moment the engine passes us.
What were the most fascinating elements of neuroscience you’ve learned?
Hanc: This idea that we have weak or puny attention capabilities is absurd. The human ability to concentrate is enormous. I also learned that multitasking is a myth. As we write in the book, “Trying to do a multiplicity of tasks well at the same time usually leads to one end—all of those tasks are done inadequately or incompletely.”
Hill’s book, Guide to Contemporary New York City Architecture (W.W. Norton & Company), draws upon visits to the Big Apple with his wife and recognizes the need for an updated guidebook to New York’s fluid and historic cityscape.
How did you select the more than 200 buildings and spaces featured?
Hill: The main criteria were that the buildings and spaces should be public. This could mean the facade of a building on a street, an interior open to the public, or an outdoor public space. Further criteria included limiting the selection to projects intended for the long term, meaning temporary structures are not included, such as the shops and restaurants that come and go quickly.
What are your top picks for a weekend in New York City?
Hill: While it’s hard to choose favorites, I recommend places where a particular density of buildings occurs. This includes the High Line and adjacent buildings as well as the Bowery. Both are north-south routes with some of the most high-profile architecture in recent years, many by Pritzker Prize-winning architects. There are also pockets in the so-called outer boroughs with a density of quality architecture: Pratt Institute and parts of nearby Fort Greene; the Bronx in and around the New York Botanical Garden and Zoo; and Astoria, Queens.
How will New York City look 10 years from now?
Hill: As in the past, the skyline will change, reflecting new developments like the World Trade Center site, Hudson Yards, and Atlantic Yards. Perhaps the greatest change will be in the public realm, as improvements like the pedestrianization of Times Square and Herald Square expand into parts of the city where people actually live, rather than where tourists gather. That is my hope, at least.