What do the following situations have in common? Losing one’s reading glasses a few times a day? Or obsessing over a past disappointment. They both involve attention: either not paying enough attention or paying too much.
Not paying attention is a more serious problem than we might realize. According to a 2015 Microsoft study, our “digital lifestyle has made it difficult for us to stay focused, with the human attention span shortening from 12 seconds to eight seconds in more than a decade.” Worse, the eight-second span is
The researchers recommended drinking more water and exercising as ways to increase our attention spans. The goldfish has the same recommendations.
The one thing we can be counted on to play close attention to is ourselves. Gregg Krech, co-founder of the ToDo Institute, says we’re very good at attending to “my thoughts, my feelings, my problems, my conduct, my convenience, and my aches and pains.”
We believe we’re the center of the universe, all seven billion of us. This makes it easier to understand why the world is a such a messy place.
Recently, I decided to get out of the house more, experience new things, even if only for an hour, and see friends more often. My motives aren’t pure. I’ve been experiencing shoulder pain for months. The pain wears me down and it’s easy to feel sorry for myself. I haven’t given up on resolving the problem, but meanwhile I also know that when I pay attention to others, take a walk in a new setting, see a new work of art, and hear a speaker on a topic I’m unfamiliar with, I have moments where I forget the pain. And these activities are a good reminder that there is a big world out there beyond me.
As far as remembering where I last set down my glasses, I’m not sure I can do any better than the goldfish.
On the day I first read this, my partner Tom and I were returning to the restaurant where we had pizza, and the one where we had gelato, in pursuit of his left-behind glasses. No luck. Yesterday we returned to the South Coast Botanic Garden to retrieve the orchid I’d bought and left on a bench. Today we shared coffee on the sun deck of our hotel, because he’d left his coffee downstairs. I’d say Not Enough Attention. Or distracted by the new grandbaby!
I heard an interesting theory from an ISD Behavioral Specialist the other day. She said we (baby boomers) and all subsequent generations are the first cohort in history to be mostly born by choice. The advent of birth control has given parents the choice about how many kids, how many years between, about the date of birth (with consequences we don’t yet know fully) and, to some degree, the sex as well as the elimination of disabilities like Downs Syndrome. Being choice babies, attention has been lavished upon us, and we in turn are lavishing attention — in ever greater amounts — on later generations. Someone else sitting in on the conversation added that her pediatrician told her, “A little neglect can be a good thing.” So – connecting to your theme — she said, “and then we criticize teens for being constantly distracted by technology that is all about me, me, me.”
Just to be clear, I am not promoting the idea of families with 13 children (the size of my grandmother’s family). In our conversation circle, each woman noted that each generation in her family has had fewer and fewer children. But it was an interesting proposition — that our decreasing ability to concentrate and stay focused might be an indirect outgrowth of family planning trends.
I had trouble following the argument. We’re self-centered from all the attention of having been “chosen, but I’m not sure why that makes us so easily distracted.