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You’re training your brain to pay attention to distracting things. When our ancestors, the Geico guys, were sitting out on the savanna and the tree next to them rustled. My favorite summary line on this whole topic comes from Sherry Turkle, an MIT professor who studies technology and society. Digital connections offer the illusion of companionship without the demands of friendship. Now that we’re losing it, we get a sense of just how valuable it was. Besides taking a break from distraction, another step is to ACTIVELY TRAIN your long-form attention and mindfullness. Whatever form it takes, make it a DAILY practice of slowing down. Perhaps the most interesting or provocative approach to solving it, harkens back to that line at the end of the Microsoft commercial – ‘we need a phone to save us from our phones’. There is a small academic movement called Slow Tech.

The more you train your brain to pay attention to distractions, the more you get distracted and the less able you are to even focus for brief periods of time on the two or three things you were trying to get done in your ‘multi-tasking’ in the first place. The ones that didn’t look over and see the lion coming to eat them are NOT our ancestors. We expect more from technology and less from each other”. At the heart of manners is a consideration of others. How many times, guys, have you been barked at by your wife because instead of giving full attention to what she was saying, you were looking at your phone. “There is something more important than you and it’s not here in this room.” The second thing I think we’re losing is creativity and insight. Our mind wanders but it’s not constantly being bombarded with new information (at least until we can take our phones in the shower which I’m sure is being worked on…). Time for our minds to make subtle connections and insights. Simply put, at the heart of creativity, insight, imagination and humaneness is an ability to pay attention to ANYTHING – our ideas, our line of thinking, each other. So, hopefully, by this point I’ve convinced you of a few things No, I think the solution is to balance the DISTRACTING brain training you’re doing every single day with training that strengthens long-form ATTENTION. For some that means leaving the phone and going for a 15 minute walk. The primary insight of the Slow Tech folks is quite interesting. An ability to make real human connection by not signaling that there might be something better on his smartphone to look at.

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Turns out if you pull a handle and it pays out predictably, you very quickly figure it out and stop pulling. The amazing part to me is that we all look around at each other and see ourselves, as adults, failing and then we give these devices to kids and expect them to do better. In fact, as parents of teenagers know, they fare far worse… Whatever it was, likely, you were LOST IN THE MOMENT, completely absorbed in what you were doing. Where’s the #1 reported place where people get insight? But, with smartphones, we aren’t looking at a work device, we’re looking at a lifestyle device. But, all the hardware, all the software, all the UI it has, carries with it 50 years of underyling assumptions – that the purpose of it’s existence is to make us more productive and more efficient. I’d guess that it’s going to be more fast paced than ever. Now imagine your own child in stark contrast to that culture of distraction. In 10 years, that’s going to feel VERY VERY different than the norm.

But, make the reward random and people have a very hard time stopping. Do you know what the average # of text messages a 13-17 year old teenage girl sends and receives every month? The Slow Tech folks ask the question – can we alter the purpose of lifestyle technologies to focus on alternative aims? That people are going to be even more distracted, even more unable to pay attention to things for any length of time.

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The more distracted we are, the more likely we are to get distracted.

Some people call switching our attention between things that vie for it “multi-tasking”.

But, my favorite part about multi-tasking is that it’s proven that the more you do it, the worse you are at it. It’s one of the only things where the more you practice it, the worse you get at it. I’d argue that what’s happening is that we’re becoming like the mal-formed weight lifter who trains only their upper body and has tiny little legs. Now it’s an opportunity to send an email or a text.

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