Call me crazy, anal, obsessive, or whatever else you want, but today I want to talk about how relevant it is to understand the meaning of distraction.
It is quite tricky for most of us to keep our attention placed on one object at a time, which is normal. Our brains are designed to process things, items, ideas, articles, memories, environmental circumstances, feelings, or whatever we expose them to. They are designed to process stimuli to make sure we relate safely to all aspects of life, and they perform at this incredibly well.
In spite of our mind’s ability to be driven by so many things, it is crucial to remember that we were also born with tools that can be used to ground our attention. Usually, wherever there is a struggle, not far there is its solution.
Specific functions within living organisms make sure the wheel of evolution keeps on turning. But today’s topic is not about genetics, and this is not an existential paper. My concern these days is with our youth and in how they (and you, Julian) are continuously bombarded with things that are taking away their ability to concentrate on simple tasks. For parents and elderly people, this is becoming a growing concern.
We have become distracted sentient beings, masters of entertainment
This is so clear; look at how:
- Contemporary societies are suffering from excessive use of technology
- There is a new cultural narrative that defends devices as an added part of who we are
- Social media is slowly becoming a psychological new warfare platform
- Our Attention is becoming a resource for advertising gurus to control how we experience the internet, and eventually molding us into doing, buying and believing whatever they feed us
- Hyper exposure to information is changing our human life experience
None of the above remarks can be denied.
Certainly, we can communicate faster and shorten the distance between family members. But we are also distancing each other from real human interaction, which can only be experienced through a warm hug, not an emoji.
The apparent betterment of life that technology seems to be offering is a double-edged sword. Hours of the day seem to go by without us even realizing how much entertainment we are processing, how many texts we are sending, the number of likes we are pressing, etc. And then, of course, we fail to complete our exercise plans or follow the systems we set to accomplish specific needs. This is pure distraction and our growing dependency on what it implies.
Identically, our focus is shifting towards other areas that are not conducive to the betterment of our life. As a result, we are slowly losing focus on simple tasks, like reading a book without being distracted, cooking a meal from memory without looking at our feeds, spending time with family, or even playing a sport without recording it.
What was the last novel you read? How many times did you stop to research some phrases or a specific citation? How long did it take to finish the first two chapters?
It is not a bad thing to research while reading. But leaving the research for after you are done reading and focusing directly on that research allows the brain to better organize that information. Neuroscientists, more and more, are becoming concerned with our present inability to focus on simple tasks—the repercussion of relying on devices and having access to so much information. Meanwhile, the future is being shaped by just how distracted we have become.
The idea is not to stop using technology, but to use it as a tool, not to let it use us as its tool. Look around you next time you go to a park, or next time you are at the beach or hiking even, people seem to be continuously plugged.
Distraction, in any dictionary, has two parts: dis and traction. Dis is the Roman god of the underworld (Orcus or Pluto). But, in compound words, it also means removing, lack, deprivation, the indication of reversal, or the release of something implied on the assertion that follows it. Traction is the adhesive friction of a body on a surface on which it moves, like a wheel on a rail. Dis, added to traction, means the absence of said motion, or in other words, the absence of direction.
Whenever we set out to do something, be it our goals, plans, study sessions, spending time with our loved ones, or whatever it is, and it doesn’t happen, more often than not, a distraction stopped our ability to focus on said task.
In the long run, if we put this in simple terms, we end up with the absence of something we desired, wanted, or projected. We are doing this repeatedly. Observe how your day goes by, and you will see how much the active presence of distractions is shaping your life. Be honest with this observation, write things down, and be unbiased about how you are spending your time.
Julian, if you made it this far, I hope you understand how crucial it is to stick to simple systems, routines, or habits that can help you manage how you spend your time. It only takes a couple of daily new habits to start realizing the power we have over distractions. Have a set of priorities in your mind every day right after you take your early cold shower. Stretch out your arms, your legs, and as you warm up your body for the coming day, prioritize two habits, and, if possible, keep your phone away while you do them. Your dad loves you!