Taking Back Control in the Age of Distraction

Progress.  We are surrounded by it and can hardly imagine life any other way.  As a species, we have developed an incredible array of technological tools that have improved our lives and advanced society.  Yet progress often comes with a potential downside; in this case, the same technology that is enhancing the way we communicate, navigate, learn and create is also altering our brains, and affecting our relationships, health and wellbeing in negative ways.  As two coaches who work in the field of health, resilience and mindfulness, we are seeing the undesirable consequences of technology in the lives of our clients, our children, as well as in our own lives. 

It’s in our Nature to Create Tools

Human beings have been using tools for hundreds of thousands of years. Tools are what allowed us to progress to where we are today. Our incredible ability to assess the environment and overcome challenges using tools is innate and nothing short of miraculous.  Where at one time we held a shaped rock in the palm of our hand to more efficiently create food and shelter, we now have access to information, communities, resources, knowledge, entertainment and so much more - all in roughly the same sized tool in the palm of our hand.  The progression is exponential these days, where we have had a trillion-fold increase in computing power since 1956.  It is hard to even visualize this incredible level of growth. The typical iPhone today could successfully guide 120,000,000 missions to the moon with its computing power. If you need some help seeing this increase this link shows it graphically.  

Tools To Create or Tools That Consume?

The tools we have created over the millennia have allowed us to explore our world and enrich our lives. Increasingly today however, our technological tools have a tendency to consume us.  Or more accurately, our attention. Tech is now ubiquitous, and it all wants to take us somewhere, somewhere other than where we really are, in the present moment. We live in the Age of Distraction, or as coined by former Apple and Microsoft executive Linda Stone back in 1998 continuous partial attention. Today, many of the apps and digital platforms are bottomless. They are designed to draw us in and keep us in by holding our attention.  While it may feel like they are entertaining us, it is ultimately about the need for more views, to gather more data and to sell more products and ads. 

In the process of having our attention distracted and powerfully held, we often sacrifice our sleep, our health, our relationships and our hobbies because we lack the awareness of what is insidiously happening to us.  Even when we are aware, it can be hard to resist the lure because the technology has been designed to exploit aspects of what our ancestral brain evolved to pay attention to.  As the tools consume more and more of our attention, many of us are spending less time creating, connecting and thinking.  

And we as authors are equally caught up in the distraction.  Too often, our precious attention, our lived experiences and the relationships that matter most to us are being unwittingly consumed by the bottomless and intoxicating pit of our technology.  

Who is Most at Risk?

Children and youth are particularly vulnerable. Their young minds are growing and need real-life stimulation, human interaction, activity and movement. The teenage years represent another increased risk driven by the teens high need to connect socially, and this makes them even more susceptible to wanting to be perpetually on-line, checking social media updates, curating their on-line presence and worrying about how many ‘likes’ they are getting.   As parents and guardians, we need to limit access and viewing for our children and work with our teens to help them develop their own healthy boundaries around who gets their precious attention.

And many of us now see technology as a way to feel better or escape in the moment.  Dopamine is a powerful chemical and we will discuss this further in subsequent posts.  But these tools create a false sense of soothing that often bites back when we try to disconnect, leaving us feeling worse than before.  Technology rarely ‘fills us up’ with what we really need and it often leaves us wanting more.

What If We Could Consciously Use Our Tools?

Like the vast majority of modern society, we (the authors) use, appreciate and enjoy our technology.  The smart phone is an amazing multi-tool.  Social media is a powerful way to connect us across time and space.  Netflix is a convenient way to access TV and movies on our schedule.   However, we need to learn how to consciously use these tools such that we are in control of where we place our attention and for how long.

With that in mind, we want to continue this discussion as a series of articles in the coming months with one primary goal: to help you take back control of your attention, your health, your relationships and your life.   

And we want your input and ideas.  We want to optimize our lives in the Age of Distraction and help you do the same. Together we can learn to develop our awareness and improve our productivity, our health and our happiness.  

Get Started Taking Back Control

In the meantime, here are two simple tips for you to start on this journey with us:

1) Download a free tracking app on your smartphone. This will allow you to see where you spend your time and how often you access your device.  iOS 12 now includes a Screen Time app in Settings.  There are a variety of other options, including YourHour (Android), Moment, Freedom, Breakfree, etc.

2 ) Write a list of 5 things you would LOVE to do, but can’t find the time. You know where this is going - your attention is your most precious resource – so start thinking about what you would do with it if you took back more control. 

Watch for more articles on this important and relevant topic, on how to live in the Age of Distraction. We will dive deeper into the effect on our brains as adults and children and how this affects us at work and at play. Please share your ideas or send us a note regarding aspects you would like to see discussed; rod@rodezekiel.comor scott@mindfulwisdom.ca.  

This article was a joint post by Rod Ezekiel at www.rodezekiel.com and Scott Orth at www.mindfulwisdom.ca.