I’m deeply concerned with my own brain at the moment, let alone Arran and Marley’s, and that of my students, actually, let alone the whole of society’s. We are literally fraying at the minds edges in an overload of digital media and technology. As Herbert Simon says, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”.
Have you ever lay on the lounge, with the TV on, and your iPhone next to you, and a book/kindle, and as you’re reading the book, you read some particle of information and you think ‘oh I want to know more about that’, so you pick up your phone, start googling, then down a rabbit hole you go, where you might buy another book to read later on the topic, and mid way through the purchase something comes on television that catches your eye, and then you let your phone sit dormant, the shopping cart closes down and you have to start again? All the while your tea goes cold on the floor as you forgot you made it. Been there? Or something very similar? I have. Sometimes it takes all my determination just to put down all my bloody devices and either lay there with some ideas, or just read.
– We now have attention spans shorter than goldfish. Yes, for real. (1)
– TLDR is a term for ‘too long, don’t read’, and is heavily employed by brands when haranguing their publicists and social media agencies for posting comments that are too long. It’s also a term used within companies when someone uses too much detail in their correspondence.
– ‘Cyberslacking’ is a term for workers that are messing around on the internet instead of actually doing, you know, work. The average person is now spending more time online, than sleeping. (2)
– More time is spent checking emails in the morning than eating breakfast (2)
– 77% of people when they having nothing to occupy their attention will reach for their phone.
– Children spend on average 6.5 hours a day on screens (3)
Part of the problem is that is seriously addictive and part of it from our shortened attention spans (induced mostly by technology in the first place). The real challenge though is that we’re never really present, and certainly not to what is going on around us. We’re in a haze of voyeurism and information grabs.
THREE THINGS TO TRY
– Do one thing at a time.
Also known as be present in each moment. Zen Buddhist monks do this in the monasteries with skill. Just walking is repeated in the mind, while just walking. Not checking emails whilst walking dog and talking to sister on the phone whilst walking. Just raking or sweeping, whilst raking or sweeping. Not sweeping with phone wedged in shoulder, and frantically signalling to partner to get the dustpan. Just bathing, while just bathing. Not checking Facebook while bathing kids, with earphones in so you can hands free talk to friend whilst motioning ‘use soap’ with a stern look on your face. When we divide our attention, nothing is absorbed. Every moment fractured. Try doing one thing well, and then move onto the next. As my colleague Jeff Kober says “Life is meant to be enjoyed. It only can be enjoyed in the here and now. To let go of suffering is to make ourselves available to the possibility of joy, here and now. In this moment.
– Capture then share later.
We all love sharing moments now, or looking at others moments. I’ll be the first to admit it, sometimes I’m in the middle of some beautiful moment and I think ‘oh, quick, get a pic, this will make for a beautiful story later’. Now it’s one thing to document, and another entirely to not even participate in a moment as you’re stuck to a screen. Now what I do is take the photograph and document it a little later. Meaning, I actually eat my food while its hot (insert gasp here). It is frequently argued by Arran we people could simply also stop taking photo’s of their food…that’s not happening anytime soon for me!
– Have some tech free time.
We try as best we can to Power Down an hour on waking and an hour before we go to bed. That’s no devices, no screens, for an hour. It’s absolute heaven. And takes serious discipline. But the results, well worth it. I’ve written a whole chapter on this in my book the 7 Day Mind Cleanse which you can read more about HERE.
“Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” Anne Lamott