Earlier this week I wrote a post called Distraction is the Enemy.
The article argued that unfelt distraction robs us of precious time:
My point in all of this is to highlight the context in which we experience distraction. There isn’t a clear dichotomy for many of us—we don’t simply quit what we are doing and go outside and play. For me, at least, distraction is much more subtle and the vehicles it uses are many times intertwined with—or the same as—the tools I use to get stuff done.
At the end of the day the question I need to ask myself is: “Am I using these tools with purpose—using my limited hours intentionally—or am I using them in reaction and allowing them to distract me (even when it doesn’t feel like it)?
My friend Ryan asked a very interesting question in the comments:
Do you think there’s any point in which distractions can be useful or inspiring?
Some time ago I wrote about why I use footnotes, not in-text links on this blog. Technically, footnotes can be tricky.
Alert: I’m about to get a little nerdy. If you just want to know how to use the amazing Citation Pro footnotes plugin, jump ahead.
This article will be the first somewhat “practical” post in a series of posts I’m writing called Making it Count. The idea arose after multiple people, seeing the demands of my job, asked, “how do you get everything done?”
The first few articles were heavily philosophical, dealing with beliefs the foundations of our actions, or why we do what we do. I argued that action flows from belief, and because of that “we need to be very careful about what we believe so that what we do will put us on the path we want. It’s worth taking a few minutes to read those entries, even if only to gain a better understanding of where I’m coming from.
The next round of posts, starting with this one, will be much more practical, diving into what my work and life look like (or what I try to make them look like) every day.
I believe that the number one killer of productivity for most people is distraction. That may sound like a self-evident statement, but the actual mechanics of distraction, as well as expectations of ‘normal’ behavior in our society, are subtle enough that many of us don’t actually feel distraction when it’s happening—and might not even label it as such.
Like it or not, we live in a world where the battle for our attention is more fierce than ever. Don’t worry, I’m not going to lament the loss of simpler life in times past or say that Twitter is ruining our brains—there are much smarter people who have explored the complexity of distraction and the decline of attention spans.
I also don’t need scientific studies to feel constant tugging at my attention from a hundred different directions. Some of that is simply life: managing home, work, relationships and more can be complicated.
More specifically, though, I’m talking about distractions of a more digital nature, namely the iPhone in my pocket and the seeming infinity of the web.
A core part of the issue for us is volume and access—more consumable content is being produced now than ever before in the history of the world and accessing it is becoming easier for larger numbers of people every day. It’s not that distraction didn’t exist before, it’s that now there are more options which are easier to get to.
I participated in the Apple Beta program for OS X Yosemite. Along with a developer preview of iOS 8, you can now make and recieve calls from your desktop. This has been possible for some time via Gmail’s Chat, but both the interface and masked number aren’t ideal.
Below is a response to a comment on a post I wrote about not reading the news.
I think often about the debt technological advance creates for us and this exchange highlighted a few great points on that topic.
I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. As you might have guessed, Postman’s work started my thinking on this subject years ago. I need to revisit his book—I agree that it is indeed prophetic.
“I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result… Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?”
Fascinating. I’m sure you’re familiar with Marshal McLuhan’s proposition that “the medium is the message.” One of the most interesting elements of this entire conversation is how Postman’s and Lewis’ and McLuhan’s theories apply to the tools we use for communication today. The velocity of news stories traveling across Twitter, along with the limitations of the medium for robust communication, seems to be a rocket booster for the tragic outcome that Postman fears in the quote you referenced.
Last week I shared a few quotes that explain why I don’t pay attention to the news. One of our former students commented on the post and his thoughts were great. I’ll post my response to his thoughts later this week.
This is spot on.
It’s funny you would write about this now, as I’ve recently been rereading two amazing media critiques – “How the News Makes Us Dumb” by C. John Sommerville and “Amusing Ourselves to Death” by Neil Postman.
While the former was published in 1999 and the latter in 1986 (!), their timeliness seems only to appreciate in value as the years roll by, revealing just how prophetic their messages truly are.
If you’ve never read “Amusing Ourselves to Death”, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s in my my top 5 for nonfiction. While I could quote an unraveled DNA strands’ worth of text from it, I’ll (nigh impossibly) choose just one passage from it:
“In America, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and it is certainly useful to have a few when a pollster shows up. But these are opinions of a quite different roder from eighteenth- or nineteenth-century opinions. It is probably more accurate to call them emotions rather than opinions, which would account for the fact that they change from week to week, as the pollsters tell us.
What is happening here is that television is altering the meaning of ‘being informed’ by creating a species of information that might properly be called disinformation. I am using this world almost in the precise sense in which it is used by spies in the CIA or KGB. Disinformation does not mean false information. It means misleading information–misplace, irrelevant, fragmented or superficial information–information that creates the illusion of knowing something but which in fact leads one away from knowing.
In saying this, I do not mean to imply that television news deliberately aims to deprive Americans of a coherent, contextual understanding of their world. I mean to say that when news is packaged as entertainment, that is the inevitable result. And in saying that the television news show entertains but does not inform, I am saying something far more serious than that we are being deprived of authentic information. I am saying we are losing our sense of what it means to be well informed. Ignorance is always correctable. But what shall we do if we take ignorance to be knowledge?”
And I love the C.S. Lewis quote. In my humble little opinion, mainstream knowledge of Lewis’ works is plummeting as his writings are relegated to merely a ‘Christian’ categorization. < sarcasm > Remarkable, then, that he had things of value to say that weren’t simply for those who still believe in bedtime stories. < /sarcasm >
< pessimism > Then again, who reads at all anymore? pessimism >
One of my business partners, Mason, studied philosophy in college. He explains that choice by saying, “I wanted to enjoy my thought life.” The first time I heard it I don’t think I grasped the gravity of what he was saying.
I was recently reminded of that story when I ran across an article about people involved in an experiment where subjects’ responsibility was to sit and think in a quiet room alone for 15 minutes. Amazingly, a large number of people, after trying their hand at silent thought, chose to to endure endure electric shock as opposed to more solitude. Fascinating. We’ve allowed ourselves to escape from our own heads.
Here’s an excerpt from the article:
Last week I wrote a post about significant shifts in people’s views on college in our country The article grew out of a conversation I had with a high school grad considering which path to take:
Yesterday I had the chance to talk to a recent high school graduate who was thinking about their future. Specifically, they had questions for me about education: Are you happy with your college degree? Was it worth it? Would you recommend getting a degree?
In the comments a reader asked how I responded to those questions, so I thought I’d tackle them in a new post. My original answers were in the form of a long conversation, so I’ll try to distill what I said into short summaries. (more…)
Not too long ago I pointed out a few very strange icons representing male and female restrooms. I found another instance, also in the airline travel space. This time I was in Belgium.
Again, the female likeness represents strange decisions by the designer, namely the tennis-ball-shaped torso. (Last time she looked like a power socket.)