Focus: Priceless

There's a new book out about the stupefying of America and the basic thesis is that we're growing dumber because we're unwilling, or unable to pay attention and focus on one thing at a time. What do you think of this thesis? (excuse me a moment, my cell's ringing and it's important; not that you're not important, but you know, it's just polite to answer). Now, where was I? O yes, I was saying that there might be a connection between the cracks in our productivity infrastructure and our attention bearing capacity (a moment please, someone's tweeting and LOL, it's hysterically funny. I mean who eats oysters and pickels for breakfast anyway?).

Did you know that 2 out of 3 voting Americans can't name the three branches of the US government? (and speaking of branches, we're finally trimming that giant fir tree in the front yard. OMG, it's been growing out of control and after talking to some people in the know we decided that we could take it on ourselves, but I'm going to need to sharpen my chain saw...but I digress). Anyway, our failure to understand basic things is rooted (don't even get me started on the danger of roots making their way into our sewer pipes. It happened to our neighbor), says the author, in our failure to be able to focus on one thing at a time.

It's ironic that this new book is, at the time of this entry, ranked #22 on the best-seller list for books about pop-culture (it's presently linked on Amazon to the book people buy along with my book. Oh, you didn't know I wrote a book. Yes, well it came about, um, I'll need to tell you later, my phone's ringing), because this is the week that the Time Magazine cover story is about Twitter. (Just a minute, someone came into my office to talk about church planting and satellite campuses. It's entirely new terrain for our staff and we're investigating how it works) Oh, and so as I was saying, Time points out how we valuable twitter will be in our culture and I'm like, "really? I don't think so. I don't know that I want people tweeting during my sermons because how will I know if they're listening? Plus, who really cares?". So (just a second, my chat box is open from gmail), the question is this: Is there value in swimming upstream against the multi-tasking, intrusive tech (oops, a reminder came up that I've a lunch appointment in 15 minutes), culture that we've come to accept as normative?

How should we then live?

A. continue to multi-task but shut it all down at a certain time, and read, meditate pray?
B. be more agressive in fighting back by unplugging in large swaths, allowing intrusions only at scheduled times?
C. leave things as they are?

I'd like your thoughts because...
Declining Math scores: 40 billion in lost competitive productivity
ADD: (wait a sec - the phone's ringing again)
Increasing mean age of project managers in America to nearly 60 years old: alarming
Loss of thoughtful discourse regarding literature and ideas: disconcerting (oops... IM on the phone about a rehearsal)

Focus: Priceless


  1. LOL! Richard, that was hilarious!

    I say unplug. That's my vote.

    That's why I don't text (don't even know how), twitter, or chat (only have acouple of times). I have no desire to use my phone for everything - receive e-mails, plan my day. I barely even know how to use my phone.

    I am easily distracted enough as it is....which is why I'm online and not writing something myself....

  2. Looking at my post, I think the paragraphs are out of order and don't flow with a thought process that makes sense. A testament to my distracted brain....

    The order of paragraphs, if numbered, should be 1,4,3,2.

  3. It is what is is. Everytime some new technology comes out people get their panties in a bunch. pagers, car phones, cell phones, internet phones, all of them brought on a commentary about how society will suffer from a lack of personal connection.

    I say the opposite, accept the techology we have as a good thing (I mean really, do we want to go back to snail mail) and use all of these gadgets as tools to enchance our relationship with people; tweet an invite to all your followers to go get coffee. Text your mom and ask her how she's doing. Use your iphone to download a bible app and use it when someone asks you about a specific verse (I LOVE that I can do that now).

    The problem isn't the techology, it's us. I don't feel think my intellegince (I spelled that wrong didn't I?) has suffered any from having an app on my ipod where I can play brickles when i'm bored at work.

    With that said, it's just plain rude to ignore the people you are with in order to check the new LOLcats or Magic game score. Use common sense.

  4. I remember a few years ago how there was a study done to investigate why the fear that infusion of technology would take away jobs never came true and why we aren't working less despite technology. It turns out that technology created more dependency on human abilities and it helps us get more productive overall.

    That said, the social networking aspect is a new stream to this technology infusion. Quite honestly, while I now twitter, facebook, blog, chat, email, and rss, I find that most of those things go away in the face of the productivity I need to accomplish.

    Or maybe it is because I find better tools like Digsby which lets me see a real-time stream of facebook updates, tweets, and IMs without having to login and surf through each interface to comment or respond to the three out of 100 that I actually want to do.

    That all said I definitely enjoy being unconnected from time to time. (you can't even say unplugged anymore with WiFi and 3G.)

  5. Great post.

    I'm split. I hate to be the guy wringing his hands in despair at technology, since each new innovation brings both positive and negative.

    But I'm also wary of acceptance. Jacques Ellul writes extensively on the inevitability of technics, the fact we reached a point early in the 20th century where technology began improving inevitably without the consequences of said technology being examined. This is a gross summary of his beliefs, but there's something to be said for groups like the Amish. It's not that they've dismissed technology altogether. They've simply asked, with each new innovation, "will this make my life better or worse in the long run?"

    The fact is, we don't even ask the question anymore.

  6. I see this post really being about two things: the dumbing down of Americans, and the intrusiveness of technology into our lives, making face-to-face conversations less common than ever before. It doesn't necessarily follow that one leads to the other, but there is certainly a connection.

    The former is covered quite nicely in a movie nobody saw: Idiocracy. Check it out to see how much dumber we'll be in 500 years. It's a comedy, but in all seriousness, one need only get hold of a letter written by someone in the 1800's to see how far we have fallen in terms of intelligence and communication skills.

    The latter is the central theme to another movie: The Matrix.

    OK, that was a joke, but when I send an email to my co-workers before a vacation, I always tell them that I will be unplugged from the Matrix, i.e. I won't be reachable by email or cellphone. Then I check my email all week anyway.

    Bottom line: Emily is right. If someone uses technology rudely or wrongly, it's not the technology's fault.

  7. I saw "Idiocracy". It was one of my favorite movies of the past 10 years.

    As far as Civil War era letters, though, that really has no bearing on intelligence. The fact is, we communicate different now, and laborious blue prose was just the writing of the day. Further, the letters written during the 1800s you're likely to see aren't going to be the poorly written ones.

    Today, the United States has a 99% literacy rate. Compare that to 58% in 1809, 75% by 1850 and 93% by 1895.

    (I only bring this up because I had a conversation with a linguist just a few weeks ago about this very topic. I was under the impression you are, that people were all amazing writers in the 1800s, but she said there wasn't real evidence to back that up. She also said she may be mistaken.)

  8. Yeah, I'm aware that there is a lot of debate about whether or not kids in the first century of our nation's history were better-educated than today, and proof provided by the often-cited letters is disputable, to say the least. I could have used other examples, such as some tests which you can find if you look around. But some have a problem with using those as examples, too.

    The most reliable evidence, IMO, is my own observation. I haven't been alive long enough to have witnessed Civil-War era communication, but I am 44, and I'm a former teacher. The way kids expressed their thoughts in written or verbal form when I taught was very substandard compared to just 20 years earlier. I can't imagine it's gotten any better now.
    Is the ability to communicate effectively a sign of intelligence? Yes, it is. It's not the final answer, but yes, it's an indicator.
    We could probably go on about this longer, but I don't want to hijack this excellent blog post any more than I already have. Or, to fit in with the times, I should say "anymore than I already have." And I should fit in a bit of "your/you're" confusion, too. But I won't. ;)

  9. I think it's an interesting topic, too, James. On one hand, I would guess children are doing more writing than ever (through email, texting, and chatting). On the other, some of the language is being shortened and communicating more richly is being lost. My guess is it's a little of both.

    It's similar to the idea of the game Guitar Hero. On the surface, it seems like Guitar Hero would discourage the long process of learning real instruments, because why take the effort if playing a video game is so much more instantly gratifying?

    But some people believe the game will raise a generation of incredible musicians, because they're being exposed to the fundamentals of rhythm and music at such a young age...and it's far more fun than starting out on the recorder.

    Here's a link to a book that claims video games and television are making kids more intelligent. I haven't read it, but heard it's good.


  10. Video games are good for you...if you're going to play video games for a living. When the smoke clears, the reality is that our country is 26th out of 29 nations in the developed world among 15 year olds given an analytical thinking and problem solving test.

    We can debate the causal link between media and stupidity, but comparing our literary abilities, productivity, and creativity with the 18th century's is a little bit pointless in my opinion. The bigger issue is how we're doing in contrast with other nations now.

    I personally don't think video games are the biggest issue, if they're an issue at all. Maybe it's the length of the school year, or the curriculum, or... who knows. But that there's a problem that's effecting our ability to compete and create on the global playing field. And that's what we should be trying to address.

  11. I think it's a slippery slope to blame education for what technology is doing to young minds. It's not the length of the school year, or the curriculum. Our students aren't doing well in school because of society, parents, over-testing, malnutrition, etc. Teachers are fighting technology in school too. I am a Spanish teacher and there are students who write, "IDK" on their tests! It drives me batty! Their texting lingo has invaded their writing ability to the point where they Honestly don't know correct grammar. I spend Too much time teaching English grammar so that I can teach proper Spanish grammar!

    And how can I, as a human, compete for their attention spans that have been warped by technology? I've learned to levitate, that's how. The student learner is Way different this decade (I'm sure all decades have said as much) and it's difficult to manage.

    This new generation wants answers ASAP. If I take a breath before I answer their questions they actually yell at me for ignoring them! It's not just about focus anymore, it's also about reasonable expectations in regard to time/tasks.

    But what do I know? I'm just a high school teacher who consistently feels undervalued by students, parents and the society I live in.

  12. When in doubt, google.


  13. A pastor I know asks his congregation to tweet comments to him for his sermon