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A New Theory of Distraction - The New Yorker

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Too distracted to read now, will read later

Attention is one of the most expensive resources, Dov.

That and Helium, it seems

Contrary: Helium is subsidized to be super cheap. That's why it will be increasingly scarce. 

I do think distraction is a spiritual problem:

The second big theory is spiritual—it’s that we’re distracted because our souls are troubled. The comedian Louis C.K. may be the most famous contemporary exponent of this way of thinking. A few years ago, on “Late Night” with Conan O’Brien, he argued that people are addicted to their phones because “they don’t want to be alone for a second because it’s so hard.” (David Foster Wallace also saw distraction this way.) The spiritual theory is even older than the material one: in 1874, Nietzsche wrote that “haste is universal because everyone is in flight from himself”; in the seventeenth century, Pascal said that “all men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.” In many ways, of the two, the material theory is more reassuring. If the rise of distraction is caused by technology, then technology might reverse it, while if the spiritual theory is true then distraction is here to stay. It’s not a competition, though; in fact, these two problems could be reinforcing each other. Stimulation could lead to ennui, and vice versa.

That Louis CK rant is worth watching:

That's exactly why I don't want my kids to have a smart phone either...but it is going to take much more than a negative reinforcement to teach kids empathy and self transcendence 

In my experience empathy comes from positive reinforcement, not negative. 

We think too highly of ourselves in the company of others.

Perhaps we're missing the evidence of why distraction is on the rise. What seems accurate:

Focus is not always sharp attention on one thing.  

Expanded awareness of many things is also focus... think of a camera lens as an example: you can set your focus so that only the foreground object is sharp and clear and blur the background, or you can set your focus to have both foreground and background and many, many other things clearly represented.

Similarly, distraction is not a lack of focus – it's a shifting of focus.  

Distraction is the behavior of shifting focus on one thing for focus on another.  It's also mostly a social commentary on others' behaviors and rarely a self-confession of personal awareness behaviors.  And a more interesting investigation begins by pondering, Why would we allow ourselves to become distracted?

It's typically because the object of our initial focus is simply not that interesting to us anymore – we're just not that into you.  

Ooops!  And that's why some people are so pissed off by distraction behaviors in others – it's a lack of respect and negative value commentary on present community and physical presence.  Our cultural standards of reflexively paying visible respect to authority and all others in our environment are long gone (except in North Korea).

Some people still command our attention and hold us rapt; sadly most of us don't have such abilities to enthrall an audience. Without such situational supports the roles we play are actually less and less interesting or simply not even worth acknowledging by giving attention to them anymore.  Boo hoo.  Our entire social media industry is built on capturing the nomadic narcissism of our awareness, where we graze freely and await the free market dynamics of someone else luring our attention away at any moment...  little by little we are all getting better with our own click bait too.  Yet once I've got your initial attention do I really have anything of interest to say that will keep it?  Meh... it's perhaps not that I'm any less interesting than I was previously, it's just that... 

There continues a gigantic order of magnitude increase in the supply of free information.

Our visual and mental fields persistently and continuously have new things to consume. We've now evolved our awareness into circumscribed marketplaces of ever expanding interests, where abstract economic forces dictate more so than purely physical, humanistic ones... on at least two levels:

1) we've accelerated our own expectations and appetites for continuous cheapening in the value of information coming into our awareness, due to the ever increasing oversupply of it; and/or,

2) we've habituated our daily appetites from consuming depths in fewer things to grazing in breadth across more and more new, unique and novel (and essentially valueless) things.  

The immediate gratification and stimulative effects of novelty is so addicting.  And we can't stop  information bingeing because it's a continuously "free" and superficially tasty commodity... we're just not clear on the cognitive effects of such a daily diet yet, but we can see the symptoms.  Soma anyone?

Greater distraction behaviors are an initial defense to continuous environments full of cheap, valueless shit and superficial people that spew about them.

Of course, that's not me or my friends... heh heh.  The interesting questions now are less and less about distraction symptoms and more and more about where people are can find respite from them, whether by creating and enjoying community that has greater value and is worth paying attention to.  This assumes we've any remaining social opportunities for rewards by developing such depths of experience and insight.  Unfortunately this is less and less so.  But one realm of value recognition remains, and it lies just inside the borders of our own country...

Our spiritual challenge of learning not to run from ourselves is always there.

We can await the imposition of recognizing this fact through tragedy as well as by physical enforcement and discipline.  The daily habit of considering ourselves is progressive when we can find ourselves more interesting than our initial, superficial attentions might reveal.  Learning not to run away from ourselves is not the same thing as learning how to pay attention to what's most interesting about ourselves.  And then all the skills we need to continue flow freely from within, like learning how to soften and hold focus until it dissolves, learning how to remove obstructions so that we can see all things as they are, learning how to be aware in the continuously persistent present moment and etc, etc, etc.

How interesting that we might ever momentarily judge our own present moments as being "too long; didn't read".  

How delightful when we find we are so much more interesting than we ever imagined and not nearly long enough...

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