Recently I was having a discussion with a colleague about how audiences now ingest media so much differently than they did when we were kids (we used to have to walk six miles in the snow in order to get to the Macintosh with dial-up...). We talked about the obvious differences, including form factor due to technology advances, but the most drastic difference seemed to be in the ability or need we have to multi-digest so many different inputs at the same time.
We used to complain when the person holding the remote while watching television flipped through the channels endlessly, unable to commit to one show. And with so many channels available on cable, it really was hard to stay satisfiedwhen who knew what possibilities were awaiting on the mulititude of other channels.
But now, with multiple windows, TiVO, TV programming online, as well as a number of other options, you don't need to flip through channels. You can have everything at once.
Because there is so much to see, it's hard to know where to direct attention to. Our attention spans aren't just short, they're shattered into tiny multi-dimensions. Which is where the problem starts...
How many windows are open on your computer right now? At any given time, I have about the 15-25 open on my machine.
There is a mess of Sticky Notes on my desktop that pop up at me when I logon. I can't make dinner without doing at least one or two other things, and the same goes with talking on the phone. And driving? Well, it's even hard to just drive these days. Even with a hands-free device, I find myself constantly tempted to check mail on my phone while stuck in traffic, eat breakfast, lunch or dinner , depending on the time of day, and catch the news on NPR. And obviously, this is also where we have heavy talks with our kids or overhear what's going on in their lives.
A basic requirement of most jobs is to be able to juggle multiple deadlines, of which I always have multiples of, along with multiple email threads, meetings, projects and stakeholders. There are times when I have so much going on in a single moment that sometimes I find myself switching back and forth until I remember to stop and do one thing at a time.
Then there is the whole work/life balance thing and managing multiple schedules, activities, and responsibilities for a family of five. Granted, I'm not doing a perfect job, but everyone goes to bed at night clean, alive and fed. (Managing expectations is a also good thing.)
Meanwhile, kids and adults in record numbers are being diagnosed with attention deficit disorders. Is it a coincidence when we're trying to stuff as much as humanely possible into a single minute? There could be any number of causes. I'm not blaming the epidemic on technology, but it does make you think for a second about what could happen if we slowed down a bit.
I've begun going to yoga again and as a result, have begun to understand that concentrating on being in the present is extremely and painfully difficult for me. During the class, I struggle with trying not to do more than one thing at a time, or cycling through my massive to-do list. And it takes all my will to be mature enough to get through the chanting of the Oms without giggling. Especially when some of the yogis in class start harmonizing their chants.
But every once in a while, after I am able to actually concentrate on the moment, I find that
the results are exponentially beneficial. I feel focused and even more productive. And it feels good enough that I've begun trying to incorporate that practice at different moments in the day. And this actually takes some effort. Especially when you consider that this post has taken me a week to write because even in the last hour, I've been interrupted numerous times to explain why forks don't feel good up your nose. (Seriously, I just work here...)
After working so hard to speed up, it's even harder to slow down. And how amazing that the longer term perspective and a single focus is even more productive. Maybe I'll even get to a point where I'll be able to not fake an Om.
Or maybe not.
1 year ago