Combating the Attention-Span Crisis
Just as excessive consumer goods can make our lives more cluttered and complicated, excessive stimulation can make our minds restive and unsettled. And few things deliver excessive stimulation like online media, computers and mobile devices. We text while we pop through our 30 open tabs while we email while we cook dinner.
We came across this 15 min talk by tech entrepreneur and investor Joe Kraus, who explains how our phones and online activity is eroding our already threadbare attention spans. He explains that the human mind cannot multitask–that it shifts its attention from one thing to the next, but it does not and cannot pay attention to more than one thing at a time. Moreover, the more often we shift between various stimuli–i.e. multitask–the dumber we get (-10 IQ pts.) and the harder it becomes to shift in the future. As he says of multitasking, “It’s one of the only things where the more you practice it, the worse you get at it.”
He touches on several other topics like manners and possible solutions to this “crisis of attention” such as weekly media fasts and his SlowTech movement.
In addition to Kraus’ suggestions, here is a comprehensive list from artist/programmer/activist Steve Lambert of online tools that restrain our compulsion to multitask:
- Self Control. This Mac or PC plugin enables you to block access to email and select websites for a set amount of time.
- Freedom goes one step further and shuts down your online access altogether for a set time.
- ColdTurkey blocks access to distracting sites for Windows OS.
- Spirited Away automatically hides windows you’re not using anymore.
- Vitamin-R hides applications, uses a timer, encourages goal setting and focus.
- Concentrate blocks sites, allows sites, launches and quits apps, and more (but you can disable it) by Rocket Software. Free to try, then costs, and not open source.
- RescueTime scheduled, timetracker, etc.
- FlexTime is a versatile timer for repetitive activities.
Online media, computers and mobile devices are integral and invaluable parts of our lives. But in a certain way, because they have been introduced so fast, we haven’t had time to cultivate smart habits around their usage. Our primordial minds’ default setting is to get more stuff and receive more stimulation; to think that this setting would be overridden in the 15 or so years we’ve been online is mistaken.
But with consciousness and smart tools, we can start reigning in our attention and edit out useless stimulation for quieter, happier minds.