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29 Jun 2009 / Julie

(un)fit to be distracted… or the end of the world

Distraction is a funny thing. To be distracted is to have your attention diverted away from something. Lack of focus. Not paying attention. Moving too fast. Not giving yourself a chance to think.

Distraction is what caused me to leave my water bottle, (usually ubiquitous) notebook, music, and office keys at home today. Distraction is what causes me to open up firefox and then forget why. Distraction is what has caused me to feel eternally rushed in work+life.

I’d also hazard a guess as to say that distraction is what causes the average of 1- 3 accidents i see on my commute daily. I also think it’s a cause of all the greed we’re seeing, the short term focus when it comes to solving long term problems as well as why we have the highest obesity rates, worst economy since the ’40s, and an environment that is currently experiencing some rather serious issues.

Somewhere along the line things tipped and we lost sight of the important things in life- family, friends, love, laughter, hard work, kindness, and service. You may have a different things you’d put on the Important List, but i bet they’re in the same general category as my items- not material things. I’d also guess that if you look around the world, you’ll notice that on the whole we’re losing our focus off those things and onto superficial things that really don’t ultimately matter.

We’re fiddling with our phones while out to dinner with loved ones and missing out on important conversations and moments.  The music we listen to while walking down the street is causing us to miss out on what’s happening in the world around us. We’re running around like chickens with “so much to do and so little time” that we’re not only forgetting to take care of ourselves, but we’re forgetting why we’re here. The “why we’re here” is different for all of us, of course, but it’s that thing that we love, the thing or things that energize us, make us feel like there’s nothing better in the world, make us happy.

The speed of life has both helped and harmed us. I can connect with a friend from across the world in an instant instead of waiting weeks for the post but the ability and expectations around moving so quickly don’t leave us much time to think. Did i want to say that? Is this how i wanted to do things? What are the consequences of my actions?

I’m trying to carve out the time to read Distracted : the erosion of attention and the coming Dark Age by  Maggie Jackson. The things i’ve been noticing in and about the world in the last few months/years are the things i am finding in this book. Jackson writes that our “virtual, split-screen, and nomadic era is eroding opportunities for deep focus, awareness, and reflection” and i’d argue also judgment. If we don’t slow down and focus, she argues we’re heading toward “a cultural collapse that leads to an abyss of forgetfulness.”

“Smitten with the virtual, split-split, and nomadic, we are corroding the three pillars of our focus (orienting), judgment (executive function), and awareness (alerting).  The costs are steep: we begin to lose trust, depth and connection in our relations and our thought. Without a flourishing array of attentional skills, our world flattens and thins.  And most alarmingly, we begin to lose our ability to collectively face the challenges of our time.  Can a society without deep focus preserve and learn from its past?  Does a culture of distraction evolve to meet the needs of the future?”

Running so quickly through life we’re just skimming the surface of things- decision making processes, thoughts, relationships, focus- and we’re missing where all the good stuff lives: beneath the surface, down a little further.

Regardless of the effects all this is having on our planet and our collective consciousness, i’ve been in a (so far very slow) attempt to get back to basics, slow down, retrain my brain to focus and get if out of ooh shiny object mode. Not only is the distraction on the inside, but it’s on the outside too. Our desks, houses, and lives are filled with the physical and metaphorical clutter that is keeping us from seeing the world and moving through it with purpose and zen.

further reading:

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