Summers I get up early, walk the dog if he’s game, and then go water the garden. It’s a ritual that I observe perhaps not religiously, but I have spent an awful lot of early mornings doing it. This fine sunny Summer morning was no different. I was doomscrolling social media while filling up buckets of water to pour on the tomatoes when my wife came out- which surprised me- to tell me the burning I’ll smell when I come back inside is the pan I left on. Totally distracted, after making my breakfast with it, I just let it go.
We all see signs of how distracted society is around us. Since I commute to a job to another town one day a week, and am not within walking distance of essential services, driving is the example I see most often and glaringly. Now, when I approach a four-way stop and no one is taking a turn, I know why: at least one driver was filling that yawning chasm of nothing to do for 10 seconds with their phone. It happens every day at every intersection. It happens at street lights. it happens in exit and entrance ramps on highways. It happens in parking lots and driveways. No one is really paying all that much attention, anymore.
One of the most brilliant inventions, I’ve always thought, was the driving simulator. It’s apparently a relic of the past, from what my kids say. It let you preview the feeling of driving before even getting behind an actual steering wheel. Your job was simple: stop at stop signs, keep the car on the road, don’t hit a pedestrian or other car. And it was a challenge. Its most important role was to ingrain behavior. I think our phones and social media have broken this pattern for so much of our behavior. It’s making everyday experiences awkward, difficult, even dangerous.
There was nothing in particular I was distracted by this morning. That’s the scary part. i was not thinking “gotta get back to doomscrolling.” I just don’t have the concentration I used to have. And as someone who works in the IT field, that is very concerning. I speculate that it’s what Alzheimer’s or dementia might feel like. If I can’t maintain focus long enough to turn a burner off, what will I be forgetting to do next?
There is an area of study which seeks to improve how you engage with reality, here and now: that is mindfulness. Mindfulness is all about foregoing all else in favor of the one thing you are focused on. It could be reading a book, sewing a button- or cooking an egg on the stove. The key is daily practice.
I notice not many people are talking about mindfulness on social media. Is it even possible in a world on fast-forward, seeking to grab your eyeballs in a couple of seconds, literally as you can’t wait to swipe away and on to the next couple of seconds of entertainment?
I’ve read the highly recommended How to Break up With Your Phone by Catherine Price. I’ve taken the intial step of removing all social media from my phone. But I am still at the beginning of the process. Next comes the hard part of rebuilding my attention span. The laundry list, according to the article “How to Reclaim Your Attention Span” over at Experience Life, is daily meditation, body scan exercises, breathing exercises, and the bane of all IT workers- monotasking. The column also encourages “deep work-” like reading a book- and discourages “shallow work-” like mindlessly scrolling social media.
So join me, won’t you, as I try to rebuild my life, one book, one pan, one day at a time.