Making Peace With Distraction

My latest essay is up on Medium.

I am old enough to remember a time when a printed newspaper landed with a thud at my door each morning. I would take it with me to work and sit and read it during my lunch break. (My lunch break! How quaint it sounds already.) Today I catch snippets of NPR while I rush around the house in the mornings, coordinating schedules and shopping lists with my husband, getting myself and my daughter ready for the day. I skim an article or two on my phone in the morning, and another over coffee in the afternoon, perhaps another few bits before bed. The result is the same. I’ve read the day’s news. More news, perhaps, than I ever read while eating a sandwich. But what was once a relaxing ritual has come to feel more like a distraction. Or maybe everything preventing me from reading the news in one sitting is a distraction. It’s impossible anymore to tell the distractions from the things I’m trying to focus on. They all feel the same.

In a New York Times essay titled “No Time to Think”, Kate Murphy depicts a society unable to focus. “If there is ever a still moment for reflective thought — say, while waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic — out comes the mobile device.” And we get it; we’re all guilty of that. She points out that most people today are physically uncomfortable being alone with their thoughts for more than 6 minutes, 15 max. What, we wonder, is the world coming to?

An article in Psychology Today attributes this discomfort to a “Cultural/Biological Mismatch.”

“Relentless cultural innovation, while promising to give us more power and freedom, is also pressing our hardware to its limits. We have only so much attention to give, only so many neurotransmitters and stress hormones to burn through in a day, and only so much memory available to manage different relationships and contexts. And the demands on those systems have been increasing.”

And so it goes. On and on. Blah blah blah. Our overly informed state is the source of even more information with which to shamefully overload our fragile ape minds. The pace of life seems to be outpacing our ability to live it fully. What a shame. What a loss. What I want to know is, what to do about it.

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