I have a real problem with paying attention to a single task for any moderate length of time (let’s say 15 minutes or more). This hasn’t been an issue all my life, as far as I recall, though it certainly is now, and I place the blame firmly at the feet of modern technology…
There are two core issues here. The first, as I’ve previously written about, is that my mind is constantly racing. I’m always thinking about what I need to do today / this week / this month / this year. I’m thinking about work, about what we have planned as a family, about how busy (or not) my calendar looks over the next few weeks, about any bills that are due to renew, about my blogs and the music duo I’m part of. It feels like the cogs in my brain are constantly whirring and they never switch off, even when I try to take some downtime and watch a film or TV show, read a book, or listen to some music. I’ve learned to live with this as I can’t see it ever changing, therefore I seemingly have no option but to try to find some comfort in knowing life will always be like that.
The second core issue is the access to information and the constant alerts I receive. Before anyone says, I know, I know – I should be able to just switch them all off and access them when I’m comfortable in doing so. I should be able to concentrate on the task at hand, get into a frame of mind where nothing else matters, and complete that task without interruption. But we all know it isn’t that easy, don’t we? The technology creators also know this – they spend huge amounts of time and money researching human behaviour, understanding what keeps us needing and craving their tech, and creating apps and programmes which we slowly and surely become addicted to.
A few real world examples of this. As I type this blog, I have Outlook open. If I receive that oh-so familiar ping which tells me I have new mail, I check it. Instantly. It doesn’t matter if I’m mid-sentence or not – I’m straight over to see what that e-mail is. In my mind, it may be important. 19 times out of 20 it isn’t, but what if it’s that 1 in 20 message which I genuinely need to address, rather than some random junk-mail? In my mind, I need to check. I have to check. I have no option but to check. Clearly this is absolute twaddle, and I should just turn Outlook off until I finish the blog post, but I find it really difficult doing so.
My mobile is the same and is far worse than my laptop. I have sound alerts set up for text messages, WhatsApp messages, and Facebook messages. Thankfully, the only e-mail alerts I receive are visual rather than audible, so I only know new e-mails are present when I look at my screen. The same applies to Instagram. Around 12 months ago, I turned off all Facebook alerts, so the only time I know I have new notifications within that app is if I actually open it. That isn’t enough though. I need to turn off alerts for WhatsApp and Facebook direct messages. Again, I feel compelled to look at them as soon as I hear the ping, even though pretty much none of the messages are ever so important I need to read them there and then. If people need me for anything urgent, they’ll generally call or text, which I’m comfortable with. The issue remains while I’m working. Despite trying to complete important tasks, I’ll have Outlook and Microsoft Teams open and, again, when notifications ping, I head straight to them. That feeling that I may be missing something urgent or important is even more prevalent whilst I’m doing ‘the day job’ but, again, it’s rare that any message drops in that can’t wait for 30-60 minutes or so.
But there’s the kicker yet again. It’s sounds so easy to address whilst typing this but it’s so difficult in real life. Technology has us gripped. Dependent on it. Addicted. Perhaps it’s FOMO (the Fear Of Missing Out) on anything new. Perhaps it’s a subconscious acknowledgement from many of us that in this day and age, we’re always available and need to constantly keep a keen eye on any notifications we receive. Either way, it’s bad and it concerns me. It affects my state of mind. It affects my energy levels. It absolutely affects my ability to concentrate on completing a single task without interruption.
Whilst typing this post, I’ve conducted a mini-trial. I’ve closed Outlook on my laptop. I’ve muted my phone and placed it in a different room. And even though I’ve completed this post quicker than the previous 10-20 I’ve written, I still feel a mild level of anxiety – a feeling that I’m missing out on something important. That I’m not as fully engaged with ‘life’ as I should be. That’s quite scary to me. Why the hell should I feel like that? It’s absolute nonsense. Yet that’s what technology is doing to us – we’re constantly online, we’re constantly available, and (as I wrote in my previous post) our devices are now extensions of us.
I’ll continue the small trials to shut down or mute apps and notifications and see how it goes. I’m hoping I’ll be more comfortable with it over time and it will become the norm. It simply has to – I can’t let it affect my productivity and attention span to the same degree anymore. It will play on my mind and cause me stress and anxiety – elements of my life which I’m looking to reduce as I get older, not increase.
As always, thanks for reading and take care.