The problem of distraction or how it seems harder to think deeply these days

 

Like so many people today, our family owns and uses computers, smart phones, tablets, and ipods.  For much of the day, an observer would notice that most or all of us is doing something with an electronic—listening to music or audio books, checking email, playing a game, writing a blog post, looking at facebook, reading an article, and so forth.  Most of those things are not a bad way to spend time necessarily but what I’ve begun to notice is that the more time I spend doing things electronically, the more distracted I become.

I have been musing about how to approach this difficulty I’m having with distraction and this week I read two articles which gave me some ideas on how to minimize or, even better, reverse some of this trend of thinking shallowly due to my continual distraction.  The first was an article on Facebook (how ironic that it would be on one of the biggest timewaster sites of them all!), 7 Skills Your Grandparents Had that You Don’t.   While some of my friends and I agreed that we do know how to do all of the things on the list (except perhaps haggling), none of us write real letters any more and we regret that loss.  The second article, Unplugging  Your Student–Focusing and Communicating in the Present, is one I read this morning about ways to help your students learn to manage the distractions in order to study more effectively.

Since I am quite sure that my increasing inability to focus on the task at hand is due, at least in part, to my increased use of electronics, these articles helped me to think about some things I can do to help to reverse this shallowness:

1. Write real letters again.  Two of my friends, who live in distant states, and I have decided to each write a letter a month to the others.  While two letters a month is not very much, it is a start, and I’m curious to see if my communication with these friends will be of a different quality via pen and paper vs. email.  I will have to slow down and think more carefully before writing with pen and paper than when I write digitally.

2. Read my “real” Bible instead of the Bible on my tablet and use my paper journal at least five times a week.  I used to copy Scripture and devotional reading as well as write prayers, lyrics to hymns, and my thoughts on my reading almost daily for many, many years but I’ve noticed that I rarely do so now that I use my Kindle Fire for my devotional time.  I suspect that fact many account for the feeling that my devotions are more shallow than they used to be.  I want to see if it makes a difference if I go back to the older style of reading and note-taking.

3. Only allowing myself to check my phone or tablet after I’ve spent a minimum of 45-50 minutes on a task, whether that be cooking dinner, ironing, reading a book, correcting papers, gardening, or working on schoolwork with my students.  By re-learning how to focus on the task at hand for a reasonable amount of time, I’m hoping to also relearn how to think more deeply than I have lately.

4.  As a companion to #3, I intend to stop checking my phone when I am with other people_–family, friends, or even standing in line at the store.  I used to talk with the people around me so much more than I do now that I can bury my face in my electronics.  Instead I need to leave my phone and tablet in my purse or in another room when I am reading with the children, playing a game, having a meal, or just relaxing on the sofa with my husband.

My plan is to start these four things immediately.  I’ll be sure to check back at the end of the summer to report how things are going.

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Wednesdays with Words – June 4, 2014

This past winter I borrowed Madeleine L’Engle’s book The Rock That is Higher: Story as Truth via interlibrary loan.  I had to return it before I finished it and I hope to one day own it because there was so much wisdom and such a wealth of understanding and beauty in it.  One of the things that challenged my thinking was her contrasting mere fact with truth.  I was very uncomfortable with the idea of selecting some facts and omitting others and of her idea that sometimes facts can mask truth.  I know that many times the Greeks kept important events off-stage in their dramas and that sometimes truth cannot be approached directly but only out of the corner of our eyes, so to speak.  In reading Good Prose: The Art of Non-Fiction by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd this week, I ran across this same idea:

We know that as soon as writers begin to tell a story they shape experience and that stories are always, at best, partial versions of reality, and thus objectivity is a myth. More worrisome are people who want to pursue the other line of argument that ‘everything is subjective.’ Well, of course, everything is subjective, once you get beyond the very barest of facts.  p. 84

 

Subjectivity simply acknowledges the presence of  a mediator between the facts and the truth.  That mediator is you, the writer.  Acknowledging subjectivity absolves you of nothing.  On the contrary, it makes you the one who has to explore the facts, discover what you can of the truth, and find the way to express that truth in prose–knowing as you look for the way to do this that you cannot be complete, that every inclusion implies countless exclusions, that you must strive to do no violence to those facts and those truths that compete for your attention. p. 85

 

Facts and truth: not only are they not synonymous, but they often have a very tangential relationship.  Although the truth must always be found in facts, some facts, sometimes obscure the truth.  Sometimes that essential effort of writing, making some things small and others big, includes making something invisible.  p. 89

 

In reading this, I was reminded of something the Apostle John wrote in his gospel:

And truly Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name. — John 20:30-31

John did not include every fact of every thing that Jesus said and did although he was witness to most of it and probably knew the facts of many of the things he missed.  However, he included only those facts that presented the truth of who Christ is and what He has done for our salvation.

So, I’m left with mulling over this idea of selecting facts in order to communicate truth.  Is this something we do everyday?  Is the lack of complete transparency with our facts a lie?  Or are we wise in choosing which facts to present so that we can most clearly tell the truth of a matter?

It is something to consider…