MC's Whispers

Whispering Silences

Archive for the tag “attention span”

Filtering our focus

In a time of rapidly evolving channels of information, is the problem that we know too much, or that we think we do? We’re constantly trying to keep up with the tide, but it seems that something else beats us to the news. There is always something happening we know little to nothing about, or worse – we only know part of.

We hoard information from so many sources for later. Because there’s just too much to read out there, and there’s little time to do it in. No matter how fast you skim read, haven’t you found yourself skipping articles or emails, or saving them for later, if it’s more than three scrolls long? In this busy contemporary lifestyle, we need to get to the point quickly. We’ve become so easily distracted that things – people and conversations included – need to gain our focus fast (and keep it), otherwise they’re considered tiresome and unworthy of our attention.

It may be dubbed “first-world problems”, but let’s face it, this is the environment we live in. We need to adjust to survive.

This acute article that came my way from my inspiring boss who knows me all too well, resonated with me from the very first sentence. If you’re a reader, you know to the bone what it’s like to hoard reading material in all forms – paper and digital. You also apprehend what it feels like to tell yourself you’ll read it later, but instead keep elongating that list that never seems to get shorter or even at the least done. Perhaps the real problem though is not that we hoard too much, but rather that we fail to filter right. It is indeed unfeasible to read everything we would like; a lifetime would not suffice for that. But shouldn’t we be able to prioritise what’s important?

Like the people and things we devote our attention to, prioritising is important in maintaining a healthy, productive and sane lifestyle.

Just think about this: when you’re younger you usually make a habit of remembering everyone’s birthday, sending out celebratory wishes and attending as many parties as you can. But as you grow older, you begin to filter out people, keeping in your social circle those who matter, who enrich your life and who make you smile. Even if you do remember certain birthdays, you choose to celebrate those of value. And that’s what makes them more special. Because they belong to the selected list of few exceptional people.

Shouldn’t we be doing that with everything we dedicate our time and attention to? Otherwise, what’s the point, really?

That thing you had to do – what was it again?

DistractionsResearch shows that your attention gets diverted approximately every seven minutes. Or is it 2.5 minutes? It probably depends on the person. And the number of distractions readily available. In any case, you might concentrate just about long enough to read this post – I wouldn’t be surprised if some of you don’t make it to the end.

So, you know how you set out to do something, like get a glass of water from the kitchen, but on the way your eye catches on to an ad or a film showing on TV, and then you just have to see a bit more of it, maybe even find out what it is about, then you can’t remember where you’ve seen that actress before so you just have to search it on IMDB to find out, then you see that she also starred in another movie you’ve seen recently and you look that up too to see just who she was playing, and in the meantime you’ve seen that a trailer for this long-awaited film is now available online, so you sit and watch that, and then find a stream of other movie trailers you just have to sit and watch, and all the while you’ve already forgotten what you started off to do or that you were even thirsty in the first place.

Well, it is simply irresistible that when searching for information on basically anything, it is a playful habit to start at one point and for no discernible reason other than hyperlink-frenzy and that insatiable curiosity you end up at some point completely different and sometimes not even apparently related. It is that voracious urge for learning more. It is as if it is unstoppable! And then when you finally decide to put an end to the insanity of all these distractions and finally get down to doing some work, you hear that ‘ping’ of a new email arriving. And the next ten or so minutes of distraction begin. Then you remember you haven’t replied to that message your friend on Facebook sent, and see something there you would love to tweet, while at the same time you hear a song you would like to search and download, as well as noting a new film to order online, and a book whose reviews you have to read. It is all just a viral of crazy disruptions and in the end actually doing your job (or whatever else it is you should be doing) seems to be the one real disruption to everything else!

This Constant Partial Attention (yes, there is a term for it) is all motivated by the desire and the helpless need at times to be continuously live on the network and connected to a stream of (online) information. Surrounded by all this new technology, being away from a computer, tablet, smartphone, Kindle, Nook, PSP, TV, radio or anything related, seems almost unthinkable. It results in people having the attention span of a goldfish. Actually of having a really short-attention span – like that absent-minded fish Dory in Finding Nemo. Because having just looked it up, the three-second memory of a goldfish is actually a myth, for they can actually recall information for up to five months (how we could check, I’m not sure). And there is another example of the diversion I was talking about. It is simply uncontrollable. And with the power of Google at your fingertips, the world is indeed your oyster (you want to look that expression up now, don’t you? – Well just to save you the time, so that you can actually get to the end of this post – the expression in fact comes from The Merry Wives of Windsor by William Shakespeare and means that all opportunities are open to you to achieve whatever you want).

In any case, with tens of distractions available in reading a simple blog post, it is evident how technology has enriched our lives in so many ways but in essence has caused a shortening of our attention span, that at the end of the day people feel they are melting away merely due to the fact that they are so wired up. And the only plausible way in order to actually get something done is to demonstrate decisiveness and lock out any distractions for a given time in order to eventually complete whatever it is you have to do. Otherwise, there is simply no end to it all. And I could easily give you another expression or two, but that would lead you to even more interruptions from that thing you had to do – I think it was getting a glass of water from the kitchen, was it?

 
Also part of Daily Prompt: Procrastination

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