You will never reach your destination if you stop and throw stones at every dog that barks. Winston Churchill

Sometimes I think my attention span is shrinking. I was reminded of this through an intriguing article in the New York Times penned by Tony Schwartz titled: Addicted to Distractions. Schwartz recounts how the habit of constantly checking e-mail and spending too much time on line is not only a distraction, but for many is an addiction;  and he laments the impact this has had on the inability to focus on anything for a length of time such as reading a book.

To be sure, technology has changed people’s lives for the better and social media has opened up a surfeit of possibilities and connections that is nothing short of astonishing. But the constant distractions of e-mail, texting, tweets, facebook and so on has insidiously crept into all aspects of our lives becoming what Nicholas Carr refers to as “an interruption system…geared to dividing attention.”

Cell phones (i.e. portable computers) are a prime example. We all have seen people riveted to their phones during meetings; teenagers for whom the phone is an extension of their hand, and young children unable to get their parent’s attention away from the phone. I can be a bit a luddite when it comes to social media but I get hooked too! I check my e-mail more often than necessary; like to text, and get irritated when the response time to anything (TV, computer etc) is not instantaneous.  In the evening when I’m bored, I go on line to watch you-tubes of rock groups or read Wikipedia biographies of famous personalities- everything from 19th century poets to female spies of World War II. It’s an effective means of avoiding what needs to be done.

Alarm bells have been sounded about the impact of social media on the brain’s neural pathways, particularly in children and youth, including the shrinking ability to focus and engage with others in a meaningful way. The distractions which we invite too easily into our lives create a sense of urgency and can steer us away from what is really important to us. It is easy to forget that as wonderful as technology is, it is only a tool- useful, perhaps indispensable at times, but only a tool. For in our quest for more pebbles of information that we could ever need or use, we can drift off course. It is tantamount to picking up stones to throw at barking dogs and thus never arriving at the destination we need to reach.

For those who are interested in Tony Schwartz’s opinion piece and his reference to the work of Nicholas Carr, see http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/29/opinion/sunday/addicted-to-distraction.

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