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Distraction and the forbidden fruit

When Eve noticed that the forbidden fruit was pleasing to eye and able to make her wise, she plucked it, ate it, and then shared some with Adam. She was the first to be drawn in by the enticements of the serpent and a world that continues to charm and divert us.

Compared with all generations going back to Eve’s choice, our age is marked by: 1) Luxury, and 2) Disposable time. We have never had more time to decide what to do with our riches and technology. There are sadly many individuals without enough, but in aggregate, our society is wealthier than it has ever been. 

And what have we done with our luxury time? You might expect a tidal wave of service and interpersonal connections – that loneliness and hunger would disappear. But this is far from the case. As a society, we are spending our incremental luxury time on screens, sleep and toys.

A distraction is anything that diverts attention from the important. Distractions are the urgent cure for boredom or the garish approximations of meaningful pursuits. We are distracted from actual friendships by reruns of the show Friends, from romantic relationships with pornography, from incremental achievements with video games and from learning with tabloid journalism.

Many posit that the primary threat of our time is global warming, inequality or unbelief, but it might just be distraction. If you counted all the hours Angry Birds fans spent playing the game it would add up to more than a million years. By comparison, it took only about 18,000 years of work to build the great pyramid of Khufu. What a waste of potential!

Why are we so easily distracted!

Homo sapiens are prone to distraction. We have a strong affinity for anything new, shiny, beautiful or loud. We could all think of evolutionary reasons for this to be the case. A rustling of the nearby trees could mean dinner for us or dinner for the slinking predator. No wonder that notification chime on my phone is a siren song – something I can’t help but reach for.

Armies of researchers, marketers and creative geniuses prey on our attention and convert it to profit. Their tactics are increasingly titillating and immersive: from word of mouth to simple signs, from pictures to movies, and from video games to 3D experiences. And they increasingly target the attention-grabbing strategies to us individually.

And most of us are easily distractible without the aid of buzzing technology. I recently heard a story about a man who told his wife that he was going to take his dog on a walk. He made it two blocks from his house before realizing that he had forgotten the dog. I’m still wondering if he was holding the leash the whole time.

If we are going to accomplish something of value today, then we don’t just need to focus. We need to focus on the right things. And remember that not all disruptions are distractions. If your grandchild interrupts you while watching your favorite show, then the child becomes the priority and the show transforms into the diversion.

How can we focus?

There are many tools and strategies to combat the bling epidemic, but they can be difficult to maintain over the long haul. Removing one distraction can just create space for another. You might take Netflix off of your phone for example and spend the equivalent amount of time watching ESPN in the living room.

I recommend taking a probing inventory of your favorite distractions. They likely contain clues about the gaps in your soul. For example, let’s say you have been binge watching The Office lately. What appeals to you about the show? Is it the easy comradery of the office mates? The romance between Jim and Pam? The clever and amusing dialog? If you had those things in your life, could you shelve the show and be content with your new relationships?

If your distractions are offering you hollow shells of your innermost desires, let go of the lies and fight for the real thing. Invite over a friend. Apply for a new job. Join a community. This adjustment will send rippling waves of fulfillment into your life and the lives you touch.

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