Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Distracted

Over recent months I've been noticing that I find it harder to maintain my concentration. Yes, I'm getting older and, yes, I have a job where there are dozens of things going on at any one time,  but this is something different...

For example: I'm sitting in the lounge and watching a film, and an actor I recognise comes onto the screen. 'What else have I seen him in?' I ask myself, and in a matter of moments I have a tablet computer in my hand and I'm googling to find the actor's career history. Once I discover that, I'm then onto Amazon to see how much some of his other films cost to own on DVD.

This leads me to the 'Customers who bought this also bought...' section, and before I've realised it, twenty minutes have passed. And all the while, the film I was watching has carried on playing. I turn my attention back to the film, but this time the tablet stays on my lap, just in case.

I'm increasingly distracted, disconnected; I can't seem to do just one thing any more. And this leaves me feeling dissatisfied and empty. Lots of information, very little engagement.

In her wonderful article 'On time, technology, and a celebration of slowness', Terri Windling writes:

Nearly everyone I know feels that some quality of concentration they once possessed has been destroyed. Reading books has become hard; the mind keeps wanting to shift from whatever it is paying attention to to pay attention to something else. A restlessness has seized hold of many of us, a sense that we should be doing something else, no matter what we are doing, or doing at least two things at once, or going to check some other medium. 
It’s an anxiety about keeping up, about not being left out or getting behind. 

This is very much akin to how I feel: as Terri Windling says, I fear being left behind, not getting enough done. Why simply watch a movie when I could half-watch it, and browse the web at the same time? Why merely call a colleague on the phone, when I could simultaneously read and reply to my emails? Why give all my attention to a conversation with my wife after dinner, when I could also have one eye on my Facebook feed?

At least I am aware of this, but something has to give. Multi-tasking is an empty promise which yields half-hearted, shallow results. As Terri Windling goes on to say: 

The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living.

Joy and wonder. That, I know, is what I'm seeking. May I learn to walk slowly enough, that I may find it. 



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