Joe Kraus says that “we’re creating a culture of distraction.” A distracted lifestyle, he says, “threatens the key ingredients behind creativity and insight by filling up all our ‘gap’ time with stimulation.” We’re not present in time.
In other words, idle time isn’t necessarily wasted time. Similarly, a few seconds spend checking Notifications or whatever isn’t necessary time better spent than gazing out the window on a bright morning as you wait for your companion to return from paying the check in Midtown at a Wednesday breakfast. For instance.
Watch the entire talk if you can, or read through his rough notes. He hits upon a significant benefit to conquering distraction:
Imagine the world 10 years from now. My third grader will be graduating high school. What does that world look like? I’d guess that it’s going to be more fast paced than ever. That people are going to be even more distracted, even more unable to pay attention to things for any length of time. Even less able to tolerate boredom. Even less able to pay attention to one another.
Now imagine your own child in stark contrast to that culture of distraction. Technically literate, but also balanced. A calmer presence. Not distracted. Not constantly seeking out mindless stimulation. An ability to make real human connection by not signaling that there might be something better on his smartphone to look at. An ability to pay attention to a problem for a long time.
I believe that the biggest gift we can impart on our kids is the ability to be mindful – to pay attention to the things and to the people that are actually around them. In 10 years, that’s going to feel VERY VERY different than the norm.
How can we be more healthy, or mindful, or intentional, when it comes to being the sort of person he outlines? One approach: improve our stamina:
One step, I think, is to take a weekly holiday from your devices. Take a break from distraction. I’ve started it. From sunup Sunday to when I put the kids to bed I do no phone, no email, no TV, no radio. Books are fine, but not on my kindle. I want to be open the possibility of gap time.
Catholics in some places are adopting similar ideas; they’re abstaining from the luxury of distraction and digital devices on Sundays like their brothers and sisters abstained from the luxury of meat in the past.
Without maintaining clear boundaries, life becomes overwhelming and exhausting. I feel worse physically. Slower. Fatter. Dumber. I feel worse spiritually. Drained. Limp. Dead. I feel worse emotionally. Anxious. Unsettled. Out of balance. So when I see Arianna Huffington advocate sleep, and Sheryl Sandberg’s candor about leaving work at 5pm, and Fred Wilson share his straightforward daily routine, I hear something of an echo. That is: We are human. Focus and consistency and limits can set us free.