Lately I find myself thinking about, well – attention spans. I know that’s perhaps an odd rumination but, that’s the case. What got me thinking about it is all the inspirational / advice / meme / funny type of graphics that appear on social media. It seems that people have become so accustomed to instant gratification in our society that anything that requires more than 5 seconds and doesn’t have a pretty / interesting / titillating / disturbing picture associated with it is doomed to be ignored. This tendency seems to have invaded virtually every aspect of modern life. Take literature for example. Modern novels are required by most publishers to have conflict on every page. The works of Thoreau, Emerson, Steinbeck, Tolstoy, Twain – would never have a remote chance at publication in today’s market. Same with modern television – conflict in every scene or cancellation. Those are the options. We have 5 minute rice, customizable everything, express lines and lanes, we want what we want and we want it NOW!
The problem I see with this is one that permeates nearly everything. People aren’t truly thinking anymore, most of them anyway. They are reacting. Their primary, nearly maniacal focus is entertainment / distraction. Modern Sapiens seem to not be at all comfortable left alone with their thoughts. Most available free time is spent in an effort for the organism to distract itself. Work, TV, internet, sleep has become the unconscious mantra. Novels? long walks? time spent in silence? meditation? Nope. Either not entertaining / distracting enough or they require some actual time not measured in seconds. So we get our information in tiny, media driven capsules and somehow think ourselves informed. The only thing we are really informed about is the collective ADD of the rest of us.
One of the great keys to happiness is mindfulness – being fully aware and present in the moment you are in. Not distracted, not engaged with the constant random chatter in our heads, but fully and completely in the moment. Our modern western culture has all but obliterated this concept. So might I suggest the next time you find yourself about to look at 100 infographics on the web in 90 seconds, go for a walk instead. Spend some time in the present because in truth, the present is all you have. Don’t rent it out to distraction or worry or mindless chatter. Fully engage in the here and now. Next time you’re binge watching the latest Netflix offering, instead hop over to Amazon and order a copy of The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky or some other great classic work. Slow down, take a breath, learn to appreciate. It is the difference that makes all the difference.