Living in a Digital Age: Your attention is leaking

To be mindful is to be aware, honest, and present with yourself. Most importantly, it’s about doing so without judgment. This is no easy task!

We are so connected these days, it’s hard to find moments of pure being. Moments of silence. Moments of calm.

Some people make space for them early in the morning, while others late at night. Yet our days; our days are so often filled with near-chaos as we move about so quickly and stay so connected through our devices, rarely do we take the time to let ourselves be, without distraction, and away from technology.

We fill our ears with music and podcasts, and our eyes with news feeds, blogs, articles, and ephemeral “content.” Waiting for trains, standing in lines, waiting for friends, we’re always putting our minds to work by scrolling, reading, and engaging, we hardly ever give our brains their much-needed downtime.

So many of us suffer from “I really need to be productive”-itis—we’re always chasing that sense of accomplishment that comes from producing, creating, and crossing things off lists. We CRAVE our dopamine hits; the feel-good chemical that makes our body say “yeeeaaaahhhh!!!”

Wherever we go and whatever we do, we often keep ourselves plugged into the matrix through our little black mirrors. We leave no space for downtime, no room for boredom, and no gaps for creativity. Even when we poop, most people are on their “phones.” It’s as if the shower has become the only device-free, mind-wandering time in our days where our minds are truly at rest and free to do what they do best: think, connect dots, and generate ideas.

If you live and work in a modern society, a city, and/or a modern office, you know what I’m talking about. People bumping into you on city streets because they can’t be bothered to look up from their screen while WALKING DOWN THE STREET. Drivers sliding into your lane because they’re scrolling and “engaging” from behind the wheel of a giant hunk of steel barreling down the highway at 70 mph. Colleagues and friends moving their attention and eyeballs from you to their device in response to that ding or buzz they just received, despite the fact that you were mid-sentence and in the middle of a riveting (or so you thought) conversation. Damn, that stings. Now you’re just talking to yourself.

With so much activity throughout our days, it’s rare to get a true moment of being human. Whether we’re talking about human connection or internal reflection, we often surround ourselves with screens, media, think pieces, news, streams and blah blah blah—why do we let ourselves become so distracted? Why do we let ourselves fall prey to apps and services that are designed explicitly to hook and capture our attention, and keep us “engaged” for as long as possible so we can fulfill some capitalistic destiny and continue perpetuating the systems of inequality, injustice, and lacking individualism?

Our attention is so valuable—SO VALUABLE—yet we often give it away for free to the companies and apps that best learn how to exploit human nature (our behaviors, tendencies, and chemicals like dopamine) instead of keeping it for ourselves and directing it towards what we want to be focused on. We let people dictate how we spend our time by hiring PhD’s in human psychology and behavior and exploiting the vulnerabilities of our attention, instead of us—you—controlling what you focus on and where your attention, energy, and mind power goes.

In our modern age, everyone is fighting for your attention, making it an insanely valuable resource. For you, your attention allows you to think, create, and achieve your dreams. Seriously. But only if you’re focused. Only if you build tolerance and resistance and an ability to push back on the modern, societal, digital norm of always self-distracting.

What could you do if you had complete control of your time? What would you do? How would you spend your time? What would you learn, make, or explore? How would you feel knowing you’re spending your energy and attention on the things you deem important to you, your life, and your career? What would it look like to take back your attention?

Your attention is your most valuable resource, and everyone is vying for it. With all our digital tech, powerful people and corporations nave near-direct lines into your sphere of living, and are actively working to grab your attention and hold on as long as they can. They’re learning and adapting every day, and they’re even writing books on how to exploit your very makeup as a human being; to exploit the things about yourself that you may not even be aware of about how your mind and body function. Often, this exploitation is masked in claims of “making lives better” and “enriching the human experience” but these lines are just as bullshit-filled as they sound. You only have limited attention: when you put your attention in one place, you’re being kept from directing it towards something else.

So again, I ask you: how do you want to spend your time? What do you want to do with yourself while you’re here on this earth? Maybe you want to host your friends for a dinner party and ask for their full presence and attention. Maybe you want to travel across the globe to see other ways of living. Maybe you want to provide volunteer and pro bono services towards causes you believe in. Whatever your desire, that’s all well and good, and up for you to decide.

All I really want to do is prompt you to evaluate the choices you make in regard to your digital devices and your personal attention.

Digital is not all bad; there is so much good to come from internet-fueled tools and services, I don’t even know where to begin. When used intentionally, so many elements of work and life get better, easier, and more organized. Opportunity and information become democratized and accessible to all, and what once costs loads of money is now often cheaply (or freely) acquired through any connected device. It’s incredible!

I’m just here to remind you to pick your head up now and then and look at the world around you. See your worldview as it is through your own eyes and with your own thoughts, and not just through the streams and lenses and opinions of the corporations providing you with endless “engaging content and meaningful experiences.” Make time for yourself to think, reflect, and simply be.

Be with yourself, your people, and your existence as a human. Become aware of your attention, and challenge yourself to focus on what you want your mind focused on, not what others—society, corporations, people—tell you you should be focused on.

Look towards where you want to go, and then move in that direction. Don’t get too distracted along the way.

The choice is yours: protect your attention or become someone’s pawn.

I know what I’d choose.

Now it’s your turn.