Technology is training our minds for distractedness, lessening our capacity for presence.
With devices always within our reach, we are constantly on alert, ready for the next incoming call, text, tweet or email, or to view the latest newsfeed at a glance. This heightened level of distraction affects our ability to stay focused on the task at hand, to be present with the person sitting in front of us, or even to be present to the needs of our own body.
We are definitely living in new times, very different from even ten years ago. The technological devices designed to save us time and make our lives easier – now seem to be depleting our free time and making our lives more complex.
It seems that we have access to more information and a greater ability to connect, yet we are left with little free time to absorb the information we are receiving, or to cultivate the deep connections we yearn for.
It might seem like we don’t spend much time interacting with our devices. It doesn’t seem like much time because these short term interactions, most of them lasting only a few minutes each – are not done with much presence.
These short term interactions or casual-connections do not fulfill our innate need for nurturing. They leave us with a feeling of emptiness, causing us to continue to seek out more ways to connect. I wonder what we are gaining from these connections, and at the same time, what are we losing?
Our technological devices that we have come to rely upon, are affecting our brain’s innate ability for sustained attention. To access our deepest feelings and thoughts requires a calm and present mind. To empathize with others relies upon neural processes that are inherently slow.
The more we connect with this virtual world, engaging with others through artificial screens, the more we lose our ability to live with presence in the real world – connecting fully with all of our senses, and engaging with ourselves and others in a deeply meaningful way.
These new times require a stronger intention to act with presence.
When we hear an alert for a call, text, tweet or email, instead of jumping up to respond, and grabbing our device to press buttons, we can choose to pause and take a deep breath. We can actually begin to use the devices which have overly-distracted us – to train our minds for more presence.
To give our brains more downtime, we can allocate time in our day to practice stillness, listening and presence. We can become aware of all the distractions we have in our day, and find ways to better respond to them, or in some cases, to choose not to respond.
If we find that during the day, our minds are distracted and we no longer feel calm and present, we can sit still, take a deep breath, and pause to listen to the silence. We can choose to stretch our bodies or take a short walk in nature. We can make time for self-reflection, to understand what it is we are feeling. Or sometimes, it is more important to just do nothing, and give our brain and body a rest.
We can allocate time when our devices are turned off. Maybe we won’t look at our computer or phone until the start of our workday, leaving us with time in the early morning to calmly prepare for the day. In the evening, we can turn our phone off early so we won’t be interrupted as we prepare for a restful sleep.
There are many ways we can reawaken our innate capacity for presence. We can choose to watch the sunrise instead of going online to read the morning news. We can choose to spend time in nature, instead of watching a video online. Or we can sit in stillness and reflect upon how we want to live each day, and realize that our moment to moment choices, and what we focus our attention on – shapes the future of our lives.
Photograph by Peter Hershey