Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Next Story - #5

Distraction (Chapter 6: Turn off and tune in)

(I know this is a long post, probably because I got so much out of it, I just kept making notes!)

Challies observes that “it may well be that the ‘beep’ will be the defining noise of our generation”. The beeps of our phones, our ovens, our email arriving, our fridge left open… our lives are full of beeping devices.

It is increasingly difficult to remain undistracted in this digital age, surrounding by the all the beeping:
“On the one hand we have become somewhat dependent on our devices, after all they bring us great benefits, we are not ready to give them up. But on the other hand, we must honestly face the truth that these devices are prone to draw us away from the important things in life and the people who are closest to us.” (5:08)
All this distraction changes us – we become distracted people, losing the ability to focus.

What is the danger of distraction?
“If we are a distracted society, it stands to reason that we would also be a distracted church. A church with a diminished ability to think deeply, to cultivate concentration, to emphasise slow, deliberate, thoughtful meditation” (6:20ff)

Distraction leads to shallow thinking, which in turn leads to shallow living.
“The challenge is clear: we need to relearn how to think and to discipline ourselves to think deeply, conquering the distractions in our lives so that we might live deeply. We must rediscover how to be truly thoughtful Christians as we seek to live with virtue in the aftermath of the digital explosion. (9:28)

In recent times two perceptions stand out which affect our distraction:

1. A changed understanding of time and space. Digital time encourages us to think in fragments. We see only the immediate and its demands, overwhelmed yet still trying to do more.
Space no longer matters in the sense that it doesn’t matter where people are any more – you call, text or email anywhere. Our communication is disconnected from space and location.

2. Modern virtue of speed and capacity. The idea that fast is always good, that increased capacity is always better. Yet, King Solomon’s life speaks of deliberate learning and slowness, he learnt & memorised many proverbs. Jesus withdrew by himself to pray, even when there was more ‘ministry’ to be done.

Identifying our distraction

So, what do we do? We identify the sources of distraction, realising that for many of us the distractions are not isolated, but pervasive.

1. Shallow thinking
“Our desire for speed and productivity has made it nearly impossible to dedicate time to thought and meditation. Instead we find that we succumb to shallow thinking.” (30:40)

2. Multitasking

We want to do more and do it faster, we feel the need to be efficient. We find that we are in state of continuous partial attention with no time to reflect, contemplate or make thoughtful decisions. We are always on alert – waiting for texts, emails, etc. We are losing the ability to think in a sustained way.

Productivity and efficiency become idols in themselves. But quality and depth suffer, and in fact it is often less efficient. “We willingly sacrifice quality, relationships and our devotion to the ones we love in order to fulfil this twisted mandate.” (35:45)

The bible does not emphasise speed and productivity, but devotion and the motivation of our heart. The virtue is found in doing all things for God’s glory. Our goal is to honour him.
“We need to be Christians who take time to give sustained focus to one thing: the worship of the living God. He does not call us to study his word or to worship him more efficiently. God calls us to read his word meditatively, to give it the time and attention it needs, the attention we need…” (37:32)
I have to come clean on this point – as I listened to this chapter, I was struck by the irony that as I was challenged by the distractions in life and the dubious benefits of multitasking, I was also arranging family photo albums as I listened, jumping back over to the keyboard to type up the helpful points!

3. Skimming
Not only are we losing to ability to think in a sustained way, at the same time we are losing the ability to read and study in a sustained way.

The internet has trained us to skim. Skimming is now the dominant form of reading. Information gathering is more important than comprehension.

This affects how we read the word of God. Christianity is a religion that wants people to use their mind and to think, so we must look to banish distraction so we can meditate on the world of God.
“We must learn to ignore the buzzes, the beeps and the distraction that threaten to drown out serious thought and reflection. We must learn to remain undistracted, to wholeheartedly focus our attention on the things that matter most and to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.” (50:10)

Application: An undistracted life

Discover your distractions first
  • Measure the media in your life – how, where, when – internet, computer access, etc
  • Find the beeps - which are the most distracting? Which habits have you developed to respond to the beeps.
  • Find what dulls your mind rather than sharpening it, what you do when you are bored etc.

Destroy distraction
  • delete and unsubscribe to blogs, emails, etc. We can live with a lot less information.
  • focus on substance – things that focus on Godly character
I am doing this more and more, I follow less blogs and avoid subscribing to email lists. Yet, I continue to read the things that encourage me to grow in godliness and to think critically.

Cultivate concentration – practice
  • Focus – develop interests on fewer things, let quality trump quantity
  • Write about what you learn (yeah, I am right now!). Keep a journal, write letters, etc. By hand, if possible (this is not an option for me, but I wish it was)
  • Seek solitude – digital silence
  • Take a digital fast – turn all off for few days – harder it is to do, the more important it is. Take a few days, then a week or two.
  • Carve out digital free time

Some things to think about (some based on Challies’ questions):
  • How have the beeps in your life grown? Are you more or less distracted? What are the main sources of your distraction?
  • What evidence is in your life that distraction leads to shallow thinking and shallow living?
  • Do you have a device you cannot live without? What is it about it that keeps you so committed?
  • When do you multitask?
  • Describe your reading habits. Do you deeply engage or are you skimming?

He finished with a helpful aside with 7 steps for how to train your children to use technology well. This has been a very long post, so I’ll just list the basics:
  1. Educate – yourself. Learn why children want it, what they want to do with it and what they actually will do with it. What else might it do?
  2. Fence – boundaries around time on device and ways device used.
  3. Mentor – watch and check using well. Instruct, explain.
  4. Supervise – as they use devices. Have them in public places. Use filters, etc.
  5. Review – check what they do.
  6. Trust – as they grow and mature, give greater trust.
  7. Model – as you instruct, model disciplined discernment.

On Monday: Information (Chapter 7: More is better)

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