On fractured attention

Sitting in a cafe with an acquaintance, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom. When I return I inevitably find my acquaintance bowed over her phone, iPhone, iPad or whatever she chooses to use. Meeting people with a laptop that is an almost integral part of their mental processes – lack of information…google…information acquired – is a regular thing. People complain about not having internet access as if it is a human right to have wifi and portable devices wherever one stands.

I am a contemplative person by nature. I can sit and do nothing for hours. I like zazen or silent meditation. I can go for days without feeling I need to talk. I own a phone purely out of necessity.  I am glad when there is no internet access, because I can ignore the nagging voice that says check this, check that. So this endless need of sharing information and pretending it is something vital sometimes seems like a cocaine rush to me. Achieving connectivity has something of the delicious torture of the needle – a person falls into the hive mind.

No doubt we have achieved the ability to assimilate a lot of information in record time. We can discard useless information and pick out everything that needs to be processed. We scan a text for the required stimulus and, having achieved it, discard everything. Concise, on point. Who has patience for a novel anymore?

But don’t we give up an enormous amount of depth just for the advantage of a net that is cast as widely as possible? Do events from the screen register on an emotional level at all? Or are all emotions banished to the subconscious and we only surf the very tip of them?

As our attention is fractured into ever smaller parts and everything becomes utilitarian – something to be used, preferably immediately – does our personality and our character not fracture with it? What happens to imagination when it becomes increasingly incapable of creating a workable whole out of the many tiny bits of information? What happens to the moral universe of people who are no longer capable of creating a whole image of a human being?

We can organize group movements out of nothing, sometimes even movements that help to topple governments, but can we organize a workable society through facebook and twitter and virtual events?

Questions and questions…maybe someone has answers.

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