The distraction addiction
Archie Modequillo (The Freeman) - September 18, 2019 - 12:00am

CEBU, Philippines — “We want our technologies to extend our minds and augment our abilities, not break up our minds. Such control is within our reach. Rather than being forced into a state of perpetual distraction, with all the unhappiness and discontent such a state creates, we can approach information technologies in a way that is mindful… and that contributes to our ability to focus, be creative, and be happy. It’s an approach I call contemplative computing.” This is a quote from the book “The Distraction Addiction” by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang.

Pang is a professional futurist and has a Ph.D. in the history of science, is a former Microsoft Research fellow, and a visiting scholar at Stanford and Oxford. He, for sure, knows what he writes about. So, people better take heed.

Computers – of whatever types and sizes – have since captivated humanity. Today, people’s attention and creativity are influenced by technology. There are now various tools that redesign human relationships with devices and the Internet – and with one another. The keyword is supposedly “efficiency,” to make the human experience of life easier and better.

But that people can construct a healthier, more balanced relationship with the dazzling information technology is only a promise. It does not come as a handout. People have to make it so.

To quote again from Pang’s book: “Contemplative computing isn’t enabled by a technological breakthrough or scientific discovery. You don’t buy it. You do it. It’s based on a blend of new science and philosophy, some very old techniques for managing your attention and mind, and a lot of experience with how people use (or are used by) information technologies.”

Sadly, instead of the ideal relationship of craftsman-and-tools between people and devices, it seems to have become master-and-slave, where people are the slaves. Nowadays, people are totally engrossed with gadgets, allowing these ‘things’ to totally grip their attention.

Chogyam Trungpa, a Tibetan Buddhist monk says, “The monkey mind is crazy: It leaps about and never stays in one place. It is completely restless.” And with the ‘noise’, both aural and visual, that monkeys make, any person nearby would hardly have peace of mind.

Distraction is contagious. Worse, it is addictive. It’s a very distracted modern life.

These days it’s not a rare, for example, to witness a group of friends or family members ignoring one another’s presence in favor of their phones. Everyone’s faces are glued to their screens rather than look one another in the eye and engage in actual person-to-person conversation. It’s easy to tell where they choose to focus their attention on or which is more important to them.

It is hard to escape technology in the digital age. Well, most people don’t want to – what with all the amazing things they can do with their computers. Technology enables them to connect with people anywhere in the world, keep in touch with their friends and family at all times, get the latest news, and even do the shopping without leaving home. There isn’t a dull moment, with smartphones that provide constant entertainment.

But the convenience and the virtual socializing and the fun are only one side of modern technology. Problems emerge as people begin to find it difficult to confront their own thoughts when they find themselves deprived of the distractions that they have come to embrace. Worse, when their relationships with online friends and followers erode their real-life relationships, when they become over-dependent on device at the risk of loss of basic personal skills, when they become anxious when they’re offline or away from their phones.

In the days of old, prophets and wise men sought isolation and practiced contemplation.  People back then were more mindful. And their relationships were more meaningful.

One of the biggest dangers of smart devices, according to Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, is that these are designed for switch-tasking, which many people mistake for multitasking. Multitasking, however, is managing a few activities that lead to a single goal. Switch-tasking, on the other hand, is allowing oneself to be interrupted with distractions at the risk of missing out on a goal.

Pang adds that “…chronic distractions erode your sense of having control of your life. These [distractions] don’t just derail your train of thought. These make you lose yourself.”

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