“Focus is a paradox—it has distraction built into it. The two are symbiotic; they’re the systole and diastole of consciousness. Attention comes from the Latin “to stretch out” or “reach toward,” distraction from “to pull apart.” We need both…The truly wise mind will harness, rather than abandon, the power of distraction.”
The challenge to just focus and complete a task (thoroughly) has been a withstanding one for quite a few years now and has been amplified in the recent months. I share and possess the common “symptoms”; multiple open browser tab windows, compulsive Alt+Tab-ing, an “F” format of reading/scanning information, and Instapaper, Pinterest and Twitter can barely handle the rate/amount of information hoarding to effectively metabolise. While this so-called condition served as a bionic skill and was advantageous in my prior jobs as a researcher, I had also realised and asserted a while back that, without proper digestion and metabolisation, all this absorption is just that —mere absorption and inevitable indigestion. Without significant or at least discerned output, the whole passive receiving and absorption process is no different from a porn fix. And though I don’t think this is entirely a problem, I would still prefer a balanced ratio between the 2 processes of absorbing and creating.
Strangely, I wasn’t always like this. On the contrary, I had absolutely no problem staying focused in one task or activity for hours. As a child and even during the hormonally-distracting pubescent years, I was never bored and could effortlessly shut out the rest of the world and lose myself for hours in a book, or whilst writing, drawing or painting. Even in the not-so-distant past of uni days, I can still recall getting through 10-page minimum requirements of philosophy and political science theories without much distraction or procrastination. But indeed, those were different times (read: prehistoric era of the internets).
So, encountering this UX designer’s blog and its namesake’s rationale has somehow propelled me to think that perhaps it is about time for me to stop lamenting those days of immense uninterrupted absorption in activity and embrace this so-called poverty of attention. In a simplistic and practical view, much of these so-called distractions probably do help me to focus more in a creative activity; as inspiration is valuable to the the creative process. Or perhaps take it as another form of adaptation and evolution; that despite losing some necessary attributes, we are also developing certain keener and sharper skills.
As we become more skilled at the 21st-century task Meyer calls “flitting,” the wiring of the brain will inevitably change to deal more efficiently with more information. The neuroscientist Gary Small speculates that the human brain might be changing faster today than it has since the prehistoric discovery of tools. Research suggests we’re already picking up new skills: better peripheral vision, the ability to sift information rapidly. We recently elected the first-ever BlackBerry president, able to flit between sixteen national crises while focusing at a world-class level.
- In Defense of Distraction (Sam Anderson)
Oh well. Anyway, if all else fails to simplify, I can just as easily diagnose this restless attention-deficiency as "symptoms of larger existential issues: motivation, happiness, neurochemistry" (Merlin Mann). Ooh, so quarter-life, so postmodern, so first world.
Or maybe, I’m just going batty (Shakespeare). :P
PS. I managed to read, finish and digest Anderson’s lengthy article thanks to Instapaper’s Text Format. I just love the clean, distraction-free, adjustable settings and its resemblance to Ommwriter. Dunno what I’d do without it.