Monday, August 27, 2012

Pay Attention! Or Not.

The subject of attention can be broken down into many levels.  Focus, lack of attention, division of attention, and on and on.  Years ago, people kept remarking on my ability to sit in a dimly lit bar and read a book regardless of the noise and commotion around me.  This is an example of focus.  I wanted to be able to unwind with a book, an adult beverage, and a smoke.  (Yes, I know it is a blight on society, but I'm an evil nicotine addict at the moment.)  My friends routinely surf the web and/or text as we are carrying on a conversation and I have learned not only to be used to it but also not to take offense.  They are most usually listening to what I am saying - they are also dividing their attention between me and whatever else seems important at the time.  Regarding lack of attention, tonight I noticed a car approaching me as I walked towards a store focused on texting ...luckily, they saw me before I saw them.  In my defense, I was directly in front of the store in a supposedly pedestrian-friendly area - but still, not my best moment.  As a non-parent, I really have no platform on which to stand but it drives me nuts how often I see families out to dinner and all of them are on their phones.  Literally, they are sitting across the table from one another and they are all on their phones - parents and kids.  I understand that kids, especially teenagers, feel like they have an appendage cut off when they are separated from their friends but what about the adults?  I understand that work doesn't necessarily stay at work and in these difficult financial times, you do what you have to in order to stay employed.  That considered, it seems to me that while technology helps to keep us connected in some ways, it is also keeping us from teaching our kids how to connect to others one-on-one and in-person.  Attention-span can be taught.  I understand that some people do have issues with focusing and in today's world, it makes sense.  However, a lack of being able to pay attention to things will, in my opinion, usually result in a person who is unable to give the best aspects of life the attention they deserve.  There are moments when you need to be looking at the world head-on instead of through the camera lens and there are people who could benefit from a private conversation with eye contact instead of a text.  Life is about experience, not a technical disconnect from what is actually occurring.

I failed to reference Howard Rheingold's "Net Smart" in my previous post regarding attention.  One thing I found particularly interesting that he discussed was the time elapse that occurs when a person switches from one activity to another.  In today's world, we constantly are checking a text message while listening to someone's story while reading a news headline on the television and so on and so on.  Rheingold writes, "This rerouting of attention is what your brain does when you think you are multitasking.  Your brain expends time and energy whenever it suspends one attentional process to fire up another one.  When you shift your attention, there is always a short interval during which you must reorient, refocus, and filter out competing information in order to move from one stable theme to another..." (p. 39)  It makes one wonder whether it might be more time efficient to set aside particular times of the day to check email or to take personal calls, so as to negate these lost areas of time.  However, I believe that if I were to try myself to do this or to offer up the idea to others, the response would be overwhelmingly incredulous.  "What if something important happened and I didn't immediately know and/or respond?"  We are time junkies.  We no longer know how to wait or how to anticipate.  When what you want to know or need to know is instantaneous, found through your phone/internet - it's hard to be otherwise.  People experiencing this need to ponder a tech-free vacation - me included.  I recommend the Smokies where reception is near to impossible for phones and internet.  Been there and done that.  Watch out for rattlesnakes and bears, though.

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