All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.
How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.
I get distracted by bright shiny objects. It wasn’t always this way but it is increasingly so now. In fact my ability to focus for a length of time has been diminishing over the years. This is most noticeable when reading anything that requires concentration.
For one who loves to read, this turn of affairs is supremely frustrating. The problem isn’t so much the book. I just don’t attend in the way I used to. I can certainly get absorbed in a good read, but I have been known to re-read the same paragraph if the material is densely packed or my mind starts meandering toward completely unrelated topics. A restlessness settles in that propels me from the chair to a series of mundane tasks that for some unknown reason need immediate attention.
I suspect I am not alone in experiencing this phenomenon. Many of us find our minds are everywhere except where we are right now. If I am honest about it, I have willingly acquired bad habits along the way including checking my phone or surfing the Internet. One night late last week, when I had enough of Netflix, I found myself re-living Woodstock on YouTube. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HKdsRWhyH30) and (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7Y0ekr-3So )
A story in the paper some time ago reported that our shrinking attention span approximates that of a goldfish. Who knows whether this is true but the fact this story came out at all, suggests a level of concern about our ability to attend. It is no wonder. Author, Nicholas Carr *refers to the internet as an interruption system- a system designed to divide our attention. As a result, we become wired for fleeting messages.
How did this happen and does it matter? I think so. The world has certainly opened up through the ability to instantly connect. Consider for example the speed at which people were mobilized for the March for Our Lives by tech savvy youth. I would say this was a good thing!
But surely something gets lost in the mass of day to day distractions. Persistent interruptions are seen as a matter of course, while we remain available to that device in our hands, hardly considering what the impact might be on all of us. It’s so easy to gravitate to the abridged version of limited characters and avoid plunging into the depths of complexity: doing more, absorbing less; connected and unconnected; focused and distracted. Totally wired! Technology in all its forms is here to stay and can be a force for good. But all good things have a time stamp on them. Surely nothing is intended to command our attention all the time?
Distractions cover the spectrum and go far beyond the phone or text message. That has certainly been the case for me. We allow many things to divert us and not all of it is unwelcome or negative: volunteer work; family matters, requests from friends and acquaintances; domestic tasks. All have a place and deserve our time but they can hijack our best intentions in accomplishing what we really want to do. An entire day or week or month can go by without giving my attention to that project or task that I value and consider important, largely because it can so easily be postponed. For me, that task is writing. I have no excuses to offer. If I did a little bit most days I would have a book in no time and more regular blogs. And yet I allow myself to get sidetracked.
We need to ask ourselves what those interruptions and busy tasks take us away from. How do we prevent the accumulation of distractions from becoming the daily routine?
Hopefully, my frustration in getting distracted by the bright shiny objects in my life will be a call to pause and set aside time for the real priorities. To cultivate a practice of attending to something for ever increasing periods of time- like reading that work of nonfiction or attending to a writing project. To push those distractions out of the way-
and sit quietly in a room alone….unplugged,
dwelling in the experience of silence…..
grateful for how I spend my days.
*The reference to Nicholas Carr was taken from a blog written by Tony Schwartz, Founder and CEO of the Energy Project. Schwartz refers to Carr’s book “The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains”.