Some days I can be distracted by anything. A child’s voice, a book, a butterfly in the yard, I’m not picky. And then on all those other days, there’s my phone.
It’s as though we humans decided that the natural world wasn’t distracting enough, so we invented the Internet. Distraction comes to us now. We don’t even have to go looking for it, it just appears in our hands begging for our attention. Pretty soon we’re being distracted from distraction by distraction.
All this has me thinking about my diet. Not that diet. My media diet—the stuff I read and watch and take in every day. I feel like as soon as I’m in front of a screen, new stories and posts and messages start flying at me.
Newer doesn’t mean better. Newer doesn’t mean more important. And yet I have this constant influx of catchy headlines and quote-covered photos and cat videos, always there, always coming, always more, with today’s stream overrunning all the things that were new and shiny just yesterday.
I know that I choose this—no one’s making me open Twitter or Facebook, after all, and I followed these feeds on purpose. Still, I’m not thrilled with the idea that I’m letting someone else—or worse, someone else’s algorithm—determine what I see and what I think about.
And the fact that there’s just so much of it means that I can’t get very deeply into any of it. So why do I keep checking it?
I jump in, I click on things that look interesting, and I’m only skimming over the surface of everything. All this clicking is like light glancing off rivers. It’s not the sunlight, it’s not the water, it’s just a thin reflection of each.
Simplifying to Find Balance
I want to live an examined life. I want to look at issues from as many angles as I can find. I want to think deeply, to arrive at reasoned opinions.
I don’t want to skim over this complex, contradictory, beautiful world. I don’t want to skim over this life.
How do we foster that kind of engagement in ourselves, when we live in a 140-character world? How do we slow down and explore what’s right in front of us?
Maybe we decide it’s okay not to keep up with all the coolest viral everything. Maybe we decide we don’t want our news in easily digestible chunks. Maybe we don’t need to see what’s creating all the buzz. (Have you ever tried to work while a fly buzzed around your desk? Buzz is really, really distracting.)
To really understand a thing, we have to sit with it a while.
I think we have to return to topics again and again. I think we have to commit to read, and not just the bullet points. I think we have to write, or discuss, or create—however we each process our thoughts, I think we have to do that.
I think we need to ask more questions, and really listen for more answers. That’s harder than following a handful of links. It can be uncomfortable.
Clicking headline after headline, reading comment after comment, makes us feel like we’re engaged, even if we’re really just consuming empty entertainment. Keeping busy that way isn’t feeding our passions, our talents, or our ability to create.
And anyway, none of us can click all the links, read all the things, see all the photos. What if we stop trying to see it all, and instead start trying to understand just some of it, with all of the nuance involved?
Maybe we can back off from our social media streams, step away from our default news outlets, check our email a little less frequently.
We can begin to replace that diet of distraction with a practice of mindfulness. “Newer” doesn’t have to crowd out “deeper.” We can figure out how to balance the fresh with the enduring, the interesting with the important.
And in doing that, we’ll protect the time and space to do the work that is ours to do. No distraction needed.