Sigh…A Crisis of Attention and Intention. Courtney E. Martin wrote this article for the American Prospect and unfortunately it’s all about me.
I have the shortest attention span of any 26 year old I know. It’s embarrassing. I even get bored at wild parties. Perhaps it’s because I do have such a short attention span, I really do believe that being able to concentrate on one thing is one of the most valuable skills/traits and person can have.
I had a note on my desk at my last job that said “Multi-tasking is a moral weakness”. It worked quite well – being reminded that multi-tasking is not something to aspire to – but it certainly didn’t turn me into a focused and productive individual.
This article talks about students being distracted by facebook and other things during lectures, which I can definitely identify with, but it doesn’t stop there.
Take those Facebook-surfing students, missing out on a potentially life-changing lecture about war and courage. Their diffused attention isn’t criminal, but it certainly doesn’t do justice to professor Dalton’s lectures, their own potential for learning, or the $51,976 they or their parents are paying for a year of Ivy League education. They mirror something very real in most peoples’ lives—the sense that your life is happening “to you,” instead of feeling truly intentional about how, with whom, and on what you spend your time. How many times have you complained about how long you spent emailing–as if some ambitious demon inhabited your body and kept incessantly pecking away at the keys?
I can relate to this as I am especially guilty of letting the internet and my computer rule my life, and frantically jumping between screens so fast that my crappy computer freezes on me every time (then, of course, I get frustrated by the moment that feels like an eternity it takes for my computer to start function again, as if I haven’t just been reading blogs for the last half an hour anyway).
Their passivity, their misplaced priorities, their degraded educational experience has a lot in common with the frenetic pace and compromised lifestyles that too many of us lead. It is as if we have all been swept up in the hurricane of contemporary life without realizing that it is our own complicity that gives the storm its overwhelming force.
This reminds me of those people you meet from time to time who seem to be able to go slowly, and stay chilled at all times. Man, those people freak me out.
This is not an anti-tech argument or a back-to-the-land manifesto. It is a reminder that our technology is only as enlightened as our use of it. Our productivity is only valuable so long as it is paired with excellence and excitement. Our memories are ultimately populated by sensory experiences, the highs of connection and lows of disconnection, not the mind-numbing march of checking off items on our to-do list while half-listening to the drumming profundity of our own lives.