Distraction Machines

Computers are amazing machines. Add networks to computers and they become powerful tools for doing useful things; without being able to communicate with one another, their utility is pretty limited. In a strange twist of irony, add The Interwebitubes to the computers and the networks and they become powerful tools for not doing things. Couple impressive computing power with multi-tasking and an amount of information that is infinite in terms of human capacity to consume even a small portion of it and you’ve created a Distraction Machine. Now litter those Machines around your home and office, put that Machine on a device small enough to fit in your pocket, and you’ve got a recipe for spending the rest of your days dying of slow wankery – both in the literal and the figurative sense.

All kinds of articles, blog posts, and other kinds of things have been written about this constant distraction that is the Internet, and that’s all well and good; if we can understand and describe the problem then maybe we can hope to combat it. But what I’m more interested in is its impact on RL.* Now we can argue all day whether things on the Internet – games, writing, relationships – are more or less “real” than things in RL. I’ll only say in passing that I would argue that they absolutely are. (If you disagree with me, let me know how it goes when you call up Visa and tell them you think your account should be credited because “things on the Internet ‘don’t count'”.) When I say I’m interested in the Internet’s impact on RL, I mean the state of distraction that seems to extend beyond my time at the keyboard.

Simply put: I feel that I’ve lost the ability to focus. I mean really focus. There was a time when I could get caught up in a project or a book or a conversation and really stick with it. Not just give the illusion of paying attention while my mind is elsewhere, I mean actually engage my whole self in that thing in its entirety. I don’t think I’ve lost this ability completely – I still occassionally get wrapped up in a novel and end up reading “just one more chapter” until it’s 4AM. However, my capacity for doing so is certainly diminished. Now, I don’t mean to villainize the Internet as the sole cause of this. I’m getting older, I have bills to pay and “things to worry about”, I probably drink more than I should…all contributing factors. But when I have to bust out Ommwriter to block out everything else on the screen in order to write three paragraphs of text, it seems like there might be a problem. Writing code – something I used to be really good at immersing myself in, whether I was objectively good at it or not – is something I haven’t even been able to focus on lately. Something is amiss.

At any rate, I’d like to try an experiment. I think…I hope…that writing might be able to help me get back to where I need to be, focus-wise. So I’m going to try it. I’m still trying to work out the details of how much to write, how often, should it be made public, and all of that. I’m thinking something along the lines of “500 words per day”. Every day. I’ll let you know how it goes (hopefully). 🙂

* RL – “real life”, as it pertains generally to “Things *Not* On the Internet”

Note: I would probable be remiss if I didn’t include some attribution to Seth Godin’s post about “talker’s block” as inspiration for this and subsequent posts. So here it is.

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