Monday, May 9, 2011

Too much of a good thing....

My lament today matches that of Calvin's dad (that being the little blonde boy whose exploits with his stuffed tiger Hobbes entertained us daily for many years from the newspaper, and continue to from their books) as he stared at a desk full of paperwork whose urgency was compounded by the then burgeoning electronic frontier.  Everything is available at our fingertips instantaneously, so production is expected to maintain a similar pace.  Calvin's dad (I never noticed that the parents never were addressed by name until I read the anniversary book that Watterson put out, it's a cool idea, but makes it difficult to reference the characters) reminisces of a time when getting a project out in a week was a rush job, and an unlikely outcome, and that was nearly twenty years ago.  He continues on about how all the efficiency and accessibility just makes us want more in less time, concluding that if we want more time, we need to make our machines less efficient. 

The urge to multitask has been taken by many to insane extremes.  I'm bad about trying to accomplish half a dozen things at once, but I usually realize when I've hit that point where the attempt to do several things at once is seriously detrimental to the needed focus on one or more of the tasks at hand.  A prime example, as I sit here writing, my Facebook is open in another tab, and when that little number in parenthesis shows up in the tab, I reflexively go check what popped up, instead of putting all the focus in on the writing process here.  Or trying to listen to sermons and talks while walking, cooking and the like.  Or downloading new music while checking the news online. 

Some of this comes from the massive amounts of data that we are surrounded by, some of it comes from the 24-7 connectivity we're granted by our laptops, our cellphones, and our tablet computers.  We expect our emails and text messages and status posts to be immediately responded to, and try to do the same in return.  But where it hurts us is in our ability to focus on one thing at a time.  Our minds have been multitasking long before there was 3 and 4G connections, but there was a time when that multitasking went on standing behind a plow being pulled by animals, or while taking in the dark night sky just because it wasn't cold enough to need a fire and there was no other particular reason to use the fuel.  That type of mental multitasking is a bit different than letting the world know about the coolest new viral video while checking the sports scores and ordering Chinese take out. 

No, I'm certainly not calling for an obliteration of technology.  My concern here is not the stuff, but what it is doing to our minds and though patterns.  It was hard enough to sit down and focus on one thing in those short quiet times before the constant threat of a text message or notification ding, and when we think about the fact that those quiet times are where we are supposed to do most of our communing with God, and extrapolate that out into the attitudes and actions of so many people around us today, it seems that such focus is not only becoming more difficult, but even less frequent.  I know it's hard, but it is possible to rebuild that focus.  It takes work but it can be done.  Little things like getting up fifteen minutes earlier, but don't turn anything on yet.  Take a part of your lunch break out in the car, still with everything off, radio, phone, everything.  Digital Bibles are great, but if the device is too much distraction, there are these cool old things called books, you flip the pages, and they don't have any pop up ads or notifications to distract. 

A dozen people learning to unplug and focus for a few more minutes a day won't change the world overnight, but it will change those people, and those people will affect some of the people they interact with, and the wave will spread.  Isn't that worth waiting another few minutes to know that your buddy got crowned mayor of the grocery store? 

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