The Battle for Non-Distraction

One of the greatest dilemmas we face is how to weigh the importance of presence vs. productivity. We’re all trying to be successful, get recognized, find meaning, and earn a decent living, but we know that life is short. We have to live in the moment and appreciate what we already have, without hoping and wishing for something else that will make us whole. That tension is the central theme of this site, which is one of my favorites (Brainpickings is marvelous, if you are unfamiliar).

Wherever we might land on the spectrum of emphasizing productivity vs. presence, one truth is common with all of us: We’re making it harder on ourselves to achieve either.

Contemporary life is a perpetual minefield of ever-improving forms of distraction. The average American spends 7.4 hours a day staring at a screen. At all moments, most of us have access to countless forms of entertainment, pornography of every variation, and the collected history of human knowledge, only seconds away. Indeed, many of the most successful and wealthiest companies today are dedicated almost exclusively to the task of our distraction.

Every time we resolve to do anything, whether it’s mailing a letter or finishing a project at work or washing the dishes, it is more likely than not that we will fail to do whatever it is we set out to do, because we will get distracted.

The ability to avoid distraction is very hard to quantify, but it may be the single most powerful limiting factor in most of our lives.

The only way to resolve this problem is to trick ourselves and train ourselves to avoid it. I think this explains a big part of the western resurgence of Buddhism, Yoga, and meditation. It’s our attempt to counter-balance the ever-increasing tide of forces designed to distract us.

I don’t have an argument to make here. This is just an observation. But I think it’s an under-understood and underappreciated issue. And as technology improves, so too will our challenge in overcoming this problem.