Hari Shanker R

Hari Shanker R

A Happiness Engineer at Automattic.

The Curious Case of Collective Attention Deficit Disorder

It’s a bright, sunny morning. Airily filling up your lungs with a (city variant of) the fresh morning air, you rev up your car and drive to work. As you’re half-way through, you notice a very obvious vibration from your jeans pocket – it’s the usual suspect, the mobile phone. You pick up the call – it’s your soulmate. She rants on and on about the brand-new outfit her dad purchased for her…But you’ve no clue as to what she’s talking about, do you?

Ah, yes. You’re driving – but did you just notice a city bus shave off the side-view mirror and the side-beeding of your car? Oh, okay, you were on the phone.

Yeah, right.

Later that evening, you watch one of those art-house flicks at the friendly-neighborhood multiplex – with your girlfriend as arm-candy. Suddenly, the screen goes dark – it’s apparently a part of the movie which is standard art-house flick material. You jerk your arm into the pant pocket and jerk out your office BlackBerry – can’t miss those mails from your US-based Boss, can you?  It took you a long ten seconds to realize that your arm-candy wanted to make, err, ‘better use’ of the ‘dark break’. You take five more seconds with the BB, before you give in to the girl.

Any of these situations ring a bell?

The second one might be a tad too far-fetched (it’s true though – scene from PVR Mumbai, circa December 2009. ‘Avatar’ was the ‘arthouse flick’, however). But the issue is indeed  a grave problem we all have faced at some point in time

Welcome to the new millennium of Collective Attention Deficit Disorder.

Image Courtesy: http://www.flickr.com/photos/brookhavenlab/

Patients with ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder’ would find it difficult to focus on a particular task over a period of time. They get bored with the task fast, and quickly move on to other tasks. They have high tendencies of procrastination and exhibit escalated physical movement.

Today, this disorder is spreading rapidly, directly proportional to the growth of technology in our lives.

It’s necessary evil. We’ve accustomed ourselves to a ‘fast food culture’. We just cannot wait – we want instant results. Be it in any field – we rue traffic blocks, for they don’t allow us to reach our destinations on time. We curse slow computers, ’cause they don’t help us complete our task on time. Our bosses want tasks to be done in unrealistic deadlines. And in this survival of the fittest era, you can’t afford to budge.

Reading is a direct casualty of ADD – first it was hesitation to read long books. Thus, abridged versions were born. Then, people didn’t have time to read even abridged versions; short stories and blogs became the order of the day, for a while. Then came twitter, smashing all existing ‘literature’ with its 140 tiny characters. No, twitter and microblogging is yet to win over traditional publishing – but at this rate of exponential growth, that too could happen.

Even ‘Google’ has moved with the times, pun intended, with Google Instant, for lazybones like us reluctant enough to press the enter key on our keyboard. Remember ‘Google Wave’? It had the ‘revolutionary’ technology that directly posted what we typed (making the ‘enter’ button redundant again) – thus ‘increasing productivity’. In fact, Google’s obsession for fast results was evident by their hiring of the guy who made YouTube instant.

Alright, what’s wrong with shifting attention spans?

Simple – you’d end up wrecking your mind. Accept the fact, we’re not made of Dual Core processors – at least the males amongst us. Women have been multitasking for a while, but they too have a limit. Quoting a friend of mine, “Multitasking IS screwing many things at once.” You may not realize it – but you will, over time. Every time you indulge in more tasks than you can, simultaneously – your mental capacity takes a toll. Your mind’s like any machine – it needs rest. Give it some cool-off time, will you?

With short attention spans, you’d simply reach nowhere.

Here’s a DIY test:

Lay your hands on one of those short stories. Any simple story would do – it shouldn’t be too long. Get a stopwatch, set it on zero. Now, open the first page of your book and start reading – remember to switch on your stopwatch when you start. Once the story is over, note the time spent to read the story. Now that the story is over, choose a second short story of roughly the same length and complexity as the original one. Repeat the process – with one difference. Switch on the music – it should be your favourite track, and read the short story. Record the time taken.

Needless to say, you would have taken at least 50% more time, when you read the story with music on. And trust me, you wouldn’t even remember a lot about the second story – you’d just have a broad idea of what happened. You wouldn’t have enjoyed the music either.

Enough proof, innit?

So how do you tackle this attention deficit disorder?

The sad reality is, there’s no definite solution. You just cannot dump your blackberries and iPhones into the dead sea – they’ve irrevocably become a part of your life. But you can always try to give your full attention to one task at a time. While you are at a critical task, avoid interferences – you’d have the mental push to reply to that text – and if you intend to do that, you may certainly go to hell. 🙂 Spend some time with yourself each day – take a walk, enjoy the beauty of the stars and the night sky (don’t forget to leave that confounded mobile handset in your couch as you go about it. :P). Try meditation and yoga – with time, you’d be more focussed and productive.

Attention definite disorder is necessary evil – but you can’t afford it to ruin your life. Push it to the wall and leave it there. Go about your life, focussed and ready.

And yeah, give that new BlackBerry/iPhone a miss. it ain’t worth it.

P.S.
You CERTAINLY suffer from CHRONIC attention deficit disorder if you did not complete reading this post. 😛

P.P.S.
Watch this video.

© 2017, Hari Shanker R. Some Rights Reserved.
Creative Commons License
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