Technology, Give Me Back My Attention!!!!

When it comes to multitasking, I have always known that it is not a thing, at least not for me. When I want to focus on my work, I always prefer to be in a calm quiet space where I can concentrate. Working while having distractions such as music or tv are reserved for easy and boring tasks that do not require my full concentration. However, something that has recently plagued me is my inability to do nothing. Ironically, I find it hard to concentrate when reading long articles or when sitting in class, yet at every moment during my day I must pay attention to something. Let me clarify, as soon as I wake up, I find myself having breakfast while watching some random YouTube video. While on the bus heading to the university, I will be looking at social media and listening to music. Whenever I have free time from my work, I will be on some platform or randomly browsing the web for stuff I don’t need. It’s like I lost the ability to just sit, relax, and do nothing. Although at first glance this seems benign, this behavior is very weird and wasteful especially since I have basically no recollection of most of the stuff I go through.

Having read the first chapter of Clive Thompson’s “Smarter Than You Think” book. I definitely agree that working in tandem with technology has made us much more productive and smarter (Although his example of how humans team up with a machine to play better chess than the machine itself does not hold anymore these days). Personally, working in a field such as robotics, I could not manage without technology on my side, from browsing journals, to solving long equations, to creating complicated simulations …  In this context, technology is my best friend. However, technology has consumed all my attention, in both good and bad ways. So where should the line be drawn? Is centering one’s life around technology become the new standard of living? Or is it simply the case that I have a weak will power when it comes to restricting myself from using technology?

I am not completely sure whether this problem is unique to me or shared by others. If I were to guess, I am pretty sure a lot of people are going through the same thing. On this note, I would like to turn it over to you and hear our thoughts on this matter.



10 Replies to “Technology, Give Me Back My Attention!!!!”

  1. I think you make some interesting observations! I’m like you and I also struggle to do nothing. I feel like I have a pretty short attention span and I end up watching Youtube when I eat breakfast or I’ll sit and look through Instagram on my phone even though I just browsed through it a little while ago. I think that unless I’m outside and removed from technology, then it’s hard to sit and do nothing.

    I think that sometimes it’s a good thing that I can’t sit and do nothing, because I’ll start thinking about my research and trying to figure out solutions to some problems I’m having. However, I’ve also had many times when I couldn’t figure out a solution to something until I sat around and did nothing for a while and forced myself to stop thinking/focusing on the problem and then I thought of a new way to approach the problem. So, maybe we all need to structure some time to go outside and take a walk or something and leave the technology inside.

    1. I also sometimes need to ‘stop thinking about a solution’ in order to get the solution. One of my favorite techniques is to go do something else unrelated that is not mentally taxing. (Walking/running/washing dishes)

      But usually, I experience very little of my day without some outside ‘entertainment.’ I’m listening to an audiobook or reading something or surfing the internet. or have the TV on in the background. When I do ‘nothing,’ it’s almost always with intent. It’s almost not possible for me to have accidental ‘nothing’ time and simply experience the world in the moment/with mindfulness. It’s a bit scary to think about how differently we’re changing our brains to experience the world than generations before.

  2. Hi Remy,
    I think you bring up an interesting phenomenon relating to attention span and technology use. My take is this there is a difference between being busy and experiencing an “information overload” as Farman describes in their 2012 piece The Myth of the Disconnected Life. One piece of the argument is against allure of the instant-gratification culture of clicking away at whatever holds your interest on your smartphone/computer/tablet, etc. It’s so much FUN to click the next link; watch the next video; check a feed or notifications…. I have experienced HUGE blocks of time disappear due to my mobile media use. The other part of the argument, is what Farman closes their piece with, by saying “conflating mobile media with a lack of meaningful connection and a distracted mind” is a mistake. In other words, it’s not the mobile media, but the user, that needs to reevaluate and recenter themselves on what is important. If we don’t, we’re doomed to be pulled in 1000 directions every day, feeling like we’ve never focused on anything at all. This, I think, goes hand in hand with the solutions that Salzburg (2016) offers in their article “Three Simple Ways to Pay Attention” where they argue using meditation as a means to reconnect with one’s concentration, mindfulness, and compassion can improve focus, deepen empathy, and can ultimately, make us happier individuals.

    I can completely relate to being that person who hops on the mobile in between appointments or moments in my day. Sometimes, I feel so busy, having been engaged in some activity or media all day, I have forgotten to give myself ANY space for reflection or thinking. For me, the best thing I have done for myself is to silence notifications on my mobile and to limit when I let myself check in to apps. I also actively make space for quiet thinking time. I have just learned that I function better overall when I provide balance for my mind. We all have to figure out for ourselves what works for each of us and strive for that!

  3. Hey Remy,

    Let me start with with telling you that you are not alone and definitely I am there in the same boat. I feel overwhelmed by the technology sometimes and yet can’t live a single day without them. Senseless scrolling and unnecessary browsing has taken up a lot of time and even after knowing the fact I continue to do so. Technology is always a luxury. I think a fine line is when the luxury becomes a necessity. As long as we are not bound by it, we should be fine. A good way of understanding our limitations is by trying to live without any human-made things. It is almost impossible to do that in this generation. However, there is always the possibility of minimalism. That’s just me, to each their own.

  4. Remi,

    I definitely share your sentiments. When I wrote my post I thought about just how much society and myself had changed since my undergrad experience. One thing that I didn’t wind up including was just how much time I sat around waiting. I would wait to go into class or wait on the person I was carpooling with to be ready to go home. I spent a lot of time just sitting around and thinking. Today that time would be spent on the internet or reading emails. The amount of sit and think time that I had back then would be almost unthinkable today. As others have said, I think the key is to actively think about how we want to live, how technology can help or hinder our goals and how we can best leverage technology to maximize benefits while limiting (although probably not eliminating) costs.

  5. You are definitely not alone in your struggles to break free from technology and “do nothing.” This is actually a topic that I’ve seen a lot of discussion on recently… The observation that others have made is that 1) this constant, almost obsessive, use of technology consumes us to the point that we often still connect with technology even if there are people around us to connect with, meaning we have fewer deep relationships, 2) on a somewhat related note, there almost seems to be an expectation that you’re always “plugged in,” meaning a vacation from work or school isn’t really a vacation anymore, and 3) doing nothing lets your mind wander, which is not only healthy, but that is how creativity can be fostered. I’ve seen some parallel conversations happening around vacations– true vacations– in general and how they relieve stress, promote better work-life balance, and enhance productivity and creativity, simply because it is that break from the things that are constantly pulling at our attention day in and day out.

    Personally, I’ve started taking more of a liking to hikes and biking, even if it’s just a short walk around the Drillfield in the middle of the day… It’s enough to give me a short break away from my computer and let me enjoy some fresh air, sunshine, and the smallest hint of exercise. Sometimes, I’ll purposefully leave my phone behind to just truly unplug for a precious 20 minutes

  6. Thanks for your post! This is something I also have noticed about myself and am struggling to Combat? or at least face. I also wake up, check out the internet, social media and so on and then proceed to do that again and again all day. Its not beneficial to me and I’m realizing how to pair down the checking and constant updating but its not easy. Its been easier at work but its more because I’ve just had more to do at work rather than sit online. Anyways, your struggle is real and I think a lot of us feel it too.

  7. I can certainly relate to the way you’ve said that using technology has affected your attention span. I personally feel some of what you said in terms of having difficulty focusing on one task, and an additional component of that difficulty for me comes from the ability to increase the speed of audio and video. I find myself watching videos and listening to podcasts and audiobooks at 1.5 or 2x speed more frequently than not, so I find myself talking much faster in daily conversation or having difficulty staying engaged when information is presented at a normal pace.

    Still, as you alluded to, I’m not totally sure whether to consider it a blessing or a curse. On one hand, I have the ability to take in content more quickly when it’s convenient, but there has to be a place to draw the line as to not throw off my daily in-person communication.

  8. It’s ironic that you wrote “In this context, technology is my best friend,” in a time when it seems technology — and social and digital media in specific — have for some replaced actual friends. While you’re point in this paragraph was about technology as an aid in your discipline, your opened with the other role technology is having – coming with us everywhere since many of us can no longer be present quietly.

    There is a growing body of emerging research on how our relationship with technology affects our emotional health and development ( Dr. Shalini Misra (UAP) studies technology impacts on relationships and decision making and information overload in professions like first responders. I anticipate that as we learn more, policy on technology in both classrooms and workplaces will evolve.

  9. I definitely share the same concerns about the technology in our life. Sometime ironically we would use apps/technology to help us restrict the time we spend with technology. If I do knot have my online calendar, I am lost as I do not save anything in my memory now. It’s like we are operating in short term memory only, which i don’t think it helps us. It even makes me question: are we really learning anything? we have all these information and tools around us that we don’t really need to learn anything but search for it when we need it.

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