The age of distractions

Recently, I read that the average adult can stay on a mental track for eight seconds, whereas goldfish can stay on track for nine. (How does anyone know the mind of a goldfish?)

Undistracted or just spacey?

Fishy story or not, a lot of us find our minds wandering and we feel besieged by distractions. But following Google links on the question of distractions tends to lead one to sites that blame the victim. “You have ADHD. Call today for help.” “It’s possible you suffer from schizophrenia.” “Meditation is the number one tool for fixing your problems.” To get answers about why I’m easily distracted, I enrolled in “Working With Your Attention,” offered by the ToDo Institute, a teaching center that focuses on mental health based on Japanese psychology. One of the reading assignments — a 2015 New York Times article called “The Cost of Paying Attention,” by Matthew Crawford–made me question who’s truly at fault for our having a shorter attention span than a fish. Crawford speaks of swiping a debit card in a grocery store and seeing ads run during the payment process. He says, “Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it.” A new frontier of capitalism is… “to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention.” This quote called to mind the frustration that comes from my trying to do research on the internet. I’m writing about Peru, 19th century, Kansas City, Southern Baptists. What does American Express, Amazon Fresh, beds and mattresses, CDs for synchrony, Urban Outfitters, t-shirts, the worst habit for money loss, Applebees, and Bostonbrain.com have to do with my research? And what do they have to do with me? Obviously, nothing. But ads like these and others are on every page I use to find resource information. From a review of the book, “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention – and How to Think Deeply Again,” comes this quote. “We think our inability to focus is a personal failure to exert enough willpower over our devices. The truth is even more disturbing: our focus has been stolen by powerful external forces that have left us uniquely vulnerable to corporations determined to raid our attention for profit.” Tim Wu, Columbia Law School professor and author of “Attention Merchants,” says, “The attention merchants are the businesses whose model is the resale of eyeballs. Normal businesses sell a product or a service. Attention merchants sell access to people’s minds. The attention industry needs people who are in a distracted state, or who are perpetually distractable, and thus open to advertising.” While protecting myself from attention merchants wasn’t my goal in signing up for the course, it’s made me more aware of how damaging distractions can be. Today, I awoke thinking I was getting tired of the course’s suggested daily activities, but now I’m fired up to stick with them and do a better job of monitoring where my attention is going.  I want to do better than the average human and better than the typical goldfish. With their bulging eyeballs, they could be in danger as the attention merchants’ quest expands.

About stillalife

I retired June 30, 2010 after working for 40 years in the field of education and most recently doing school public relations/community outreach in a mid-size urban school district. I wrote for superintendents and school board members. Now I'm writing for me and I hope for you. In this blog, I offer my own views coupled with the latest research on how to preserve our physical and mental health as we age, delve into issues most of us over 50 can relate to like noticing wrinkles and forgetting where we left our keys, discuss the pros and cons of different ways to engage our minds and bodies after we leave the workplace, and throw in an occasional book review, all peppered with a touch of humor, irony, and just plain silliness. Also, I'm on the third draft of my second novel since retirement.
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1 Response to The age of distractions

  1. Evelyn says:

    Thanks, Ann. There is a lot of food for thought here. I will think of it every time I see a goldfish!

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