Interesting Cell Phone User Species

There are many peculiar and interesting species of cell phone user for one to discover and observe in the civilized wild. Here are some you may encounter in your travels. (Please approach them with caution, as some startle easily.) Manibus … Continue reading

Distractions Can Be Dangerous

I do it all the time, but I don’t enjoy multitasking. I like to give things my undivided attention—assuming the thing in question is something I enjoy or find interesting. There is a beauty in allowing an activity, thought, or experience to consume—fully consume—you. This is one of the reasons I love playing volleyball. Few distractions reach me on the court. Nothing exists beyond my teammates and the endeavor of winning. I’m not updating my status or trying to get more work done. The game demands my full attention. There are no to-do lists or chores. My brain and my body are working towards only one goal.

Distractions can be dangerous. Too often I see someone behind the wheel of a moving vehicle with his/her eyes trained not on the road, but an electronic device in his/her hand. The desire to constantly be doing more (or achieving more) doesn’t allow some people to focus on a single activity—not even when lives are at stake.

We are a culture too often defined by distractions. We disengage from the people around us to interact with others remotely. We take our eyes off of once-in-a-lifetime events to tell our friends/followers we’re there. And yet, in stopping to “share” or “check in” we’re taking ourselves out of the experience we claim we’re having. I’m amazed at how often I’ll be watching a sporting event on TV and see members of the crowd watching the live event through the viewfinder of their smartphones or tablets. They’re there, and yet they’re not fully there. They’re at the epicenter of the action, but they’re watching it on a screen just like I am at home. I’m not saying that taking photos is foolish. I’m all for memorializing milestones and special events. I just find it interesting that in trying to create souvenirs from our experiences, we must miss a portion of the event we hope to maintain as a memory. Our participation is paused while we’re recording.

I’m guilty of it myself. I have neglected to be fully mentally or emotionally available because I am not giving anything my full attention. I have to consciously remind myself that most things can wait, and some things are worth experiencing at a level of one hundred percent present. Distractions are for chores—they help make the tedious and mundane less boring. But even so, I don’t want distractions to occupy so much space in my life that they leave no room for deep thought. Epiphanies can come while folding the laundry or waiting for a train. Revelation tends to wait for silence and your undivided attention. When I’m too busy, I stay too shallow in my own thoughts. When I’m distracted or multitasking, I’m not getting any deep work done.

There is a beauty in singularity. Going for a walk without listening to a podcast or talking on the phone. Eating a meal without having the television on—facing yourself (or another person). I like allowing my attention to be fully captivated by something. Certainly there are times when multitasking is called for and even beneficial, but to live in that mode permanently is to live in fractions and shallow portions.

Doing Nothing

Sometimes I feel as though I’m doing nothing. And since I don’t spend my days staring at a wall in a catatonic state, what I really mean by “doing nothing” is doing nothing important—nothing of any significance or weight—nothing that leaves an indelible mark around me. There are people living big, multiple lives. I don’t mean they’re duplicitous—not the man with a family in Philadelphia and another in Pittsburg. What I mean is that these people manage to cram so much living into their one life, that it’s almost as though they’re living many times over. It’s the woman who volunteered in Uganda, drove her motorcycle across Europe, went to law school, invented something that became ubiquitous, climbed Mt. Everest, started a non-profit organization that saves or improves the lives of the marginalized, and tomorrow she turns thirty.

I can’t help but look at my life sometimes and wonder why it’s seems so little by comparison. How are so many others doing so much more? Where do they find the time and the motivation? Have I slept late too many mornings? Have I watched too much television? Should I not have spent that weekend back in 2002 defeating Halo? Do I nap too often?

My life is full of procrastinations and distractions. Many little unimportant things have devoured massive chunks of my time. Is this how others manage to live big, multiple lives—by avoiding all things trivial? Could I do the same? I’m addicted to my frivolities, but I enjoy the addiction. I want to be changed without having to exert the effort of actually changing. I’m that person who would like to be fluent in French or Italian, but not enough to study.

All this feels like an excuse wrapped in a complaint—or a complaint wrapped in an excuse, but it doesn’t fix me to know that. It’s as though I’ve diagnosed the disease and prescribed the cure, but I can’t find the energy to walk to the drug store. Which also makes me wonder if something else is wrong with me—or if I’m what’s wrong with me. Maybe I don’t know what I really want. Or maybe I’m not willing to give up what it costs.

There are things that I tell myself (and others) I want to do, but I don’t really—otherwise I’d be doing them. Right? These are the things I wish I wanted to do. For instance, I don’t want to exercise every day—but I want to want to. And there’s the rub. It’s that extra “want to” that I have to hurdle. The only thing harder than overcoming a double “want to” is not getting swept up in a “don’t want to want to.” For example, I don’t want to want to eat a second serving of pizza, fried chicken, or apple crisp à la mode—or an entire Toblerone milk chocolate bar—but I do want to. And so I get in the way of my own goals and push myself into the holes I’ve already dug.

And then, like a light bulb that has to be replaced all too often, a familiar solution dawns on me. Nike had it right: just do it. I need to reprimand my impertinent inner child that throws a tantrum at the slightest hint of self-imposed discipline. I need to just get that writing done. I need to just leave that second helping of pizza, fried chicken, or apple crisp à la mode for tomorrow. I need to just save some of that milk chocolate Toblerone for another day. I need to just put on my sneakers and get moving and sweating. I can’t sit around waiting to simply want to do those things I know I should do; I need to just do them. Wanting to may not come today (or tomorrow). Some days the fact that I should has to be enough. This is how I rediscover my lost discipline. I stop saying or thinking that I should or want to (want to) do something, and I just get about doing it—today. It’s just that simple, but simple isn’t always easy.