Delving Deeper

Sweet, sweet distraction

30 MAY 2016,
Social distractions
Social distractions

As we tackle the numerous chores of our quotidian life, one thing stands out as a recurrent practice among the modern day person. Ironic enough, it is a simple action that has us keeping our heads down – literally – while walking, sitting at our desks and dangerously enough while driving; it is the perfect diversion and a lethal one.

I am a tech-lover, and the idea of having the latest iPhone, laptop, gamepad, etc. is very much appealing to me. I, for one, cannot resist the idea of taking snapshots of a delicious meal I have had somewhere or an interesting book I am reading or beautiful scenery; I am a social media addict just like most of your out there and I enjoy my addiction. However, with the overarching presence of social media on all platforms, accessories and gadgets have become the medium of distraction to our brains that are otherwise seeking focused work amid all the commotion.

I have been struggling with low levels of attention as of late, and it dawned on me after a long period of observation, is that social media have a massively adverse effect on my concentration (among other things); seeing my phone light up next to me, incited me to stop whatever task I was doing to answer messages, emails and eventually make my usual phone calls (I enjoy those quite a lot!). Yet, something usually seems to have gone off after.

Why are social media so addictive? The answer is simple. It is because they are tailored to cater to our need to be seen or heard, to be eulogized and even satisfies our penchant for – relatively - cruel criticism while hiding behind our screens. Nothing is more gratifying than to actually see those addictively sweet notifications pop up as masses of people start liking your pictures, articles, statuses and so on. It is the shallowness of that task that is appealing as opposed to the frightful “darkness” of a fully concentrated mind. But what is darkness other than the laser-accurate attention to the task at hand that shuts out distractions and shuns shiny gimmicks.

The historical moment when businesses adopted social media as means to advertise and expand their horizons, helped mutate all the available platforms from a guilty pleasure on the workplace into something a person is actually proud to use, one that shows that workers are now having their perspective reset by new values and practices. These would have seemed quite alien before Facebook popped out of its shell and gradually embraced us all. But at what cost? … it’s free! You might say; yet you pay with your time, which is equivalent to money nowadays … fair enough?

I’d like to quote Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World in saying that disruption is deadly to one’s own concentration, and human being have been known to retain a certain residue from previous tasks. Therefore, upsetting your fluid workflow at home, café, office or library to check your Facebook page, Twitter feed, Instagram and so on, would lessen your potential at accomplishing chores perfectly. According to Cal Newport, the human brain is designed to go into a state of “deep work,” it even “craves” this level of strain which I totally agree with, most notably thanks to my personal experience in attempting to ward off distraction in an open workspace where phone calls and messages chime at all times.

I would rather stop blaming social media for being such a distracting agent or factor in our daily lives, and focus on the single idea that one can actually rely on time management so as to resolve the attention/concentration issue. Memory and attention can be developed through exercise, but this requires commitment and some willpower even for those who are able to easily multitask. I would also refer back to Cal Newport’s Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, which can only be described as an illuminating publication, in actually advising you to set a timetable for using social media, allowing you to enjoy relatively long periods of unwavering concentration, thus boosting your productivity and allowing yourself “delicious” moments of fruitful distraction whenever your brain is satisfied and stretched to its full limit. You’ll then feel your brain muscles relax and recharge, as you need to recover. It might take you some time to get the hang of not responding to urgent-looking emails, messages and notifications, but the results are guaranteed to be positive.

Enjoy your state of full concentration; savor the satisfaction of reaching your limits and stretching your mind’s boundaries, since it is the only way you will ever progress, but also give yourself leeway in recovering from that strain, just you those of you who workout, do at the gym.