Sunday, August 30, 2009

Driven To Distraction

Someone at work forwarded me this essay which I caught and scanned, ironically, while I was in a meeting at work. It was brilliant, validating my own distaste for meetings. When you need to really concentrate on a task, when you are pushing yourself to make something difficult, you need long blocks of uninterrupted time.

Its why when I check my schedule and I see the entire day free from meetings, I feel literally euphoric and motivated thinking there's a better than good chance I might make some real accomplishments. But just because outlook says your free doesn't make it so, not in today's world anyway. You see, I am constantly connected to skype, and at any moment, I could get a skype chat from co-worker that could spin me off into a distracted tangent. Or an e-mail.

What's worse is the internet itself.

This New Yorker article sums it up best when describing the infinite playlist the internet provides a music lover:

"For a century or so, the life of a home listener was simple: you had your disks, whether in the form of cylinders, 78s, LPs, or CDs, and, no matter how many of them piled up, there was a clear demarcation between the music that you had and the music that you didn’t. The Internet has removed that distinction. Near-infinity awaits on the other side of the magic rectangle. "

I feel the same way, even worse, when it comes to good essay, news-related writing. There is literally so much good stuff out there, a never-ending supply of incredible writing about subjects I'm incredibly interested in there, enough to keep me busy and happy for hours at a time. And every hour of every day more stuff is added. And I know it. And because I work as I do on the computer with an infinite internet connection I always know what's available. The good is ready and waiting to distract me from doing what the best thing I should be focused on.

In college, it was easy, I would flee the distractions of the apartment, the roommates, the television and hole myself up in the library with my books so I could focus. Its harder and harder to do that any more.

This last week is a prime example. We have a subscription to Netflix, usually this is not a problem. Netflix is my source of hard to access, hard to find older classic, foreign or arty films that I wouldn't be able to find at Blockbuster. So, we get this old black and white film in the mail, maybe where almost the entire film will take place in one room, not an explosion in site. It will sit on our kitchen counter for days, then weeks, then finally we get around to watching it. And we're never disappointed. The movies are always good. Just a little brainy, you have to work for it.

When we're tired and want mindless entertainment, we hop on over to blockbuster and find a forgettable new release.

But lately I've been adding frivolous and fun movies to the queue. The other night, Batman, the Dark Night came early in the week. Every evening, I knew it was there. I knew I wanted to watch it. I couldn't wait for the weekend.

So last Wednesday night, the kids were in bed, I convinced my wife that we would watch half of it, and I would rifle through stacks of paper work at the same time. Batman was a distraction. We should have been sleeping or whatever.

Instead, we were up to 1am finishing the movie.

The movie was fine and all, but in reality, I wish I hadn't watched it. There was really nothing redeeming about it. The acting was good, but the characters were awful. The story line was interesting, but the whole premise was so dark and senseless. It was a movie for an adrenaline junky whose been desensitized by hours of violence. I could not even imagine a world like this one, and I get fantasy, but this was just one horrifying scene after another. In other words, I hated it, I should have turned it off and went to bed much earlier.

If you wanted me to pin down the biggest challenge of living in today's world, it would be dealing with distraction. There's so much cheap stimulation out there. Food that is over the top sweet, movies with gratuitous sex and violence, mindless web surfing, blogs (imagine bashing blogging in a blog....)

Even good stuff is bad when it keeps you from doing the best thing or at least better things. The trick is finding strategies to keep the distractions at bay especially during those times when you really need to do so.

I'm not against facebook or blogging or web surfing at all. In so many respects it can improve our lives immensely. We have the opportunity to became incredibly insightful voters. There's so much information readily available to research an issue or a candidate. You can have on-line discussions with your friends to help make informed voting decisions.

You can become a smarter shopper, getting better informed about the best products to buy, the best vacations to take, the best schools to enroll your child in. Its a better world in so many ways.

But all of this good stuff can also lead us down the path of mindless drones described in Huxley's "Brave New World", where our life begins to be just one stimulating event after another.

So, what are some techniques you use to avoid distractions?


proud parents said...

If distractions are a "treat", a reasonably set amount of time devoted to distractions help to curb over-indulgence. There's no guilt trip, if it's your reward to an otherwise productive day. There's no gratuitous devotion or attention, and you learn to filter to the best of stuff to stay within your time constraints. Time set aside helps you to be more productive with the rest of your waking hours, since you know that those distractions have a time and place of their own.

H said...

I'm sorry for your Batman experience, I could have warned you about that one. I think I did fall asleep inbetween the 2nd and 3rd time that I thought it was over.

I agree about the distraction bit, especially in the internet world, and agree again about how useful it can be when used within limits. Like tonight, for instance...Bill made me an omlet for dinner after complaining last week that he had no idea how to do it. Apparently he googled "how to make an omlet" and watched a video. Amazing, I tell ya, simply amazing and delicious!

Sorry I can't help out in the "how do you avoid distractions" department. This is not a pregnant woman's forte as I am distracted every moment by a kicking fetus, aching body parts, and the need to nourish this growing kid. Can THAT be my full time job, brewing a baby?!