The Internet is a lot of things. Foremost a connector and amplifier. So it makes sense that it takes our tendency to distraction to new levels. I sometimes make the mistake of checking my email before moving on to critical tasks. Forty-five minutes later, I look up and realize that I’ve followed more than twenty links, read about 12 articles or blog posts and 40 or so random musings. It wouldn’t be so bad if this didn’t happen multiple times per week. I suppose on the positive side, at least I’m reading things I find interesting. This is something of an improvement over mindlessly watching whatever is on TV. That’s little consolation.
What is distraction though? What you do when you should be doing something else? Something you consume or engage in to take your mind off of other things? So it’s linked with both procrastination and recovery. In some cases, we need these things. They can help give us down time, or time to think or stimulate us in meaningful ways. A good book can be a distraction. So perhaps the value of the distraction exists on a spectrum. Unfortunately it’s a spectrum that we often find ourselves on the wrong end of.
I don’t think of myself as a luddite, but I can’t help but think that our use of technology is not serving us. That it is no longer designed to serve us. It’s designed to grab hold of our time and attention, the only commodities we can never get more of. The economics of advertising drive that engine with ruthless efficiency. In many cases, we are not the primary customer, we’re the product. We opt in to our own lack of fulfillment. Of course, we’ve done that for decades now. There have always been opportunities for distraction and well-meaning thinkers have always lamented what it’s doing to us. Even so, it isn’t a stretch to say that the sum total of available distraction has grown by several orders of magnitude in recent years.
Perhaps it’s good to stay informed or entertained or connected. But it’s better to get things done. The irony being that in doing so, perhaps you are creating a distraction for someone else. So long as it is a worthwhile one, I’m not sure that’s a problem. There is a place for distraction in our lives, but it should be the exception, not the default. Ultimately, it’s not what we consume but what we create and contribute that matters. It’s all too easy to wile away the hours on Facebook or Youtube or the myriad other options, but easy isn’t what we should aspire to.
This is mostly aspirational reflection. I’m just as prone to distraction as everyone else. I’ve checked my email twice and my RSS feed reader once in the last four paragraphs. Distraction can become the default mode when you have a device in your pocket that connects you to every person you know, all the information streaming across the world, and all the entertainment you could ever want. I don’t like this. Distraction is easy. Too, too easy. Like many things, it’s something I need to work on.