Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Distraction: A Serious Problem of Modern Life

s-VACATION-large.jpgHere is the irony in writing a piece about distraction. I told myself not to check my email until the column was done, but I did peak at my Facebook because I was awaiting a response. I saw that I had four new friend requests, so in the process of accepting them, I see that another blogger has referenced one of my posts in a recent blog, so I click over to her site.


Oh, and did I mention that I have Mozart blasting away in my ears so that I can drown out the sound of the podcast the woman in front of me at the coffee shop is playing?


I have always known that distraction is a problem for me. When I was a junior in high school, I was taken to a psychologist to be evaluated. He told my mother that my decoding skills (ability to decipher, decrypt, solve, translate) were some of the poorest he’d seen. So, to give myself the best shot at concentration, I’d carry around wax ear plugs and shove those things deeply into my ear canals, to block out the tapping of a pencil next to me or the sigh of the guy three desks away. To keep myself focused on the paper in front of me, I’d visualize a set of blinders for my eyes, and an imaginary fort around desk.

But according to Maggie Jackson, columnist for the Boston Globe and author of the book “Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age,” there is much more at stake in our culture today because of technology than a few bad test scores and an endemic of decoding problems. Maggie says, “The way we live is eroding our capacity for deep, sustained, perceptive attention–the building block of intimacy, wisdom, and cultural progress. Moreover, this disintegration may come at great cost to ourselves and to society….The erosion of attention is the key to understanding why we are on the cusp of a time of widespread cultural and social losses.”


Maggie didn’t set out to write a book about distraction and the role of attention to a culture. She was merely curious as to why so many people are stressed out and feel trapped in pressured lives despite all the resources we have as a country. In her research she discovered that despite all the advantages of our technological gadgets, they are bringing about the same problems inherent in the first industrial and high-tech (telegraph, cinema, railway) revolutions. Moreover, she was surprised to learn in her research how central attention is to a culture, and what happens when you let go of the powers of attention.

As for me … this piece took an additional hour to write because I couldn’t resist checking my email, as well as following up my tweets on Twitter and reading my Facebook and LinkedIn mail. I suspect I am a good case in point for Maggie’s research. However, all hope is not lost. Says Maggie: “We can create a culture of attention, recover the ability to pause, focus, connect, judge, and enter deeply into a relationship or an idea.” We do that attention exercises and using something I have a shortage of lately … discipline. Or, Maggie says, “we can slip into numb days of easy diffusion and detachment…. The choice is ours.”


Click here to subscribe to Beyond Blue and click here to follow Therese on Twitter and click here to join Group Beyond Blue, a depression support group. Now stop clicking.

  • Jessica

    Interesting, profound and highly important thing to consider and create awareness around….if not for distractions, you would not be able to fulfill your mission statement, I would not connect with knowledge and ideas I want to filter into my life during my work hours…….when I am very unchallenged currently.
    BUT I suggest leaving facebook, email checking, corresponding with friends and people, out of family time and the bedroom myself… for sure this erodes process and intimacy.
    A fascinating conundrum of our age, and a chance to develop discipline FOR SURE And wisdom and discernment. For me personally it is about WHEN and NOT HAVE TOS……choices to support being alive and connected in the right moment. Great piece you wrote!

  • Mary Anne

    I recently discovered that, along with my bipolar disorder, I also have ADD. As a psychology magor and a current grad student in a counseling program, ADD is the very last diagnosis I considered having. I discovered it when I began taking stimulants as a desperate last attempt to treat my unwavering depression. My psychiatrist was at a loss, as well as my counselor. When the stimulants actually made a huge difference, my counselor began to ask me about more of my symptoms, as well as my childhood history. Now it is becoming clear that my mother has ADD, and possibly my daughter.
    Having read more on ADD recently (especially in women), your post makes a lot of sense. I have had similar thoughts about the link between advances in technology and attention deterioration. Being so sensitive to stimuli and distraction has, in some ways, enabled me to be distracted from my unbearable mood at times. However, it truly has limited my ability to form lasting connections with people. It is clear this is a societal illness, as well as an individual one. I am still looking for answers, so thank you for posting this. I will definitely be checking out the book you cited.

  • Bill White

    Great piece, Therese. Oh man – is distraction a major issue for me! Now, I didn’t say “problem” because it hasn’t kicked a dent in my productivity or relationships; but it’s definitely a force to be reckoned with. Email and blog stats are my biggies. And, of course, to qualify for a distraction they have to be absolutely meaningless activities at the time – and they are. I’ve gotten to the point now where I can close my Outlook and admin dashboard for a good while. But, still, that index finger is twitchin’. Thanks…Bill

  • Frances Robinson

    About seven years ago, I was forced to live without a TV, and I have not have one since, by choice. The first year, living without a TV, was difficult — very difficult — since I had had a TV for almost all 54 years of my life at that point. But I learned that, without TV, I slept much better at night, and I also learned that I didn’t miss important news because I listened to the news on my car radio. Also, at some point, I realized I no longer had time to watch TV. I went back to college, started volunteering, socialized more, read good books a lot more.
    A few years ago, my computer crashed and I was without my computer — much more significantly, the Internet — for 8 days. (I do not use my phone for Internet/e-mail. In fact, I don’t even text.) And it was wonderful! My anxiety level dropped significantly again. So now I limit my time on the Internet each day, and on Sundays I check my e-mail/the news in the a.m. and again in the p.m., briefly, and that’s it. I also try to take other days without spending much time on the Internet.
    I have lived alone for most of the past 11 years, and I have been retired now for the past five years. So there aren’t a whole lot of other distractions either.
    It is a great way to live (I think) — once you adjust to it.

  • Lacey

    There is this fabulous blog that seems to distract me from my work duties. It’s called Beyond Blue. Have you heard of it? :-)

  • Justaman

    I find myself having trouble concentrating on my distractions, because I
    often get sidetracked by them. Next thing you know, I have no idea if I’m
    coming or going.
    Why just the other day I was….
    Now, where was I…?

  • April

    I am interested in learning more about medicines for bipolar/ADD and auditory delay issues. My husband and I both have been diagnosed. He is doing very well on lamictal but hasn’t found a good medicine for his processing delay/ADD diagnosis.
    I just got out of the hospital b/c of my depression and they diagnosed me with BP II, I know I have ADD also but they want to get my moof stabilized. I am on lithium and lamictal and resperdal, too many meds for me. Any thoughts?

  • steven.m /BI-POLAR 1

    distractions the best 4 MANIA.

  • Karen

    I was easily distracted also when younger. Too much happening in the world around me and not “into” boring school books or the task at hand. But, when I found a subject that was of deep interest (gardening or creating programs in Excel) I could stay focused for 6 – 7 hours without being sidetracked except to replenish my coffee or iced tea.
    Like, Francis, my TV went out years ago and haven’t purchased a new one. I didn’t miss it because of having the interenet. I’d wake up in the middle of the night just to check “new mail” or see who else was online that was on my “buddy” list. Now, I realize just how meaningless it was. It was like each email or friend request was like receiving a Valentine Day Card in 3rd Grade and the more a person received meant they were more liked, pretty or popular. Rather superficial, as I look back. I refuse to own a cell phone and block out all the unnecessary static noise. I eat a lot of healthy fresh fruits and vegetables and avoid processed foods as much as possible, plus I now live alone. The only sounds that are heard are the birds chirping, the wind gently swaying the trees and the pecking on the keyboard as this is typed.
    Feeling rushed creates anxiety and my focusing becomes difficult. I will prepare as much as I can at work before leaving for the next day so that I am ready for all those curved balls that are thrown, I am ready to be on top of them. Plus, I have to walk a block and half each morning from the parking lot to my office. Maybe a few of these will help you other readers. Good Luck to All. :)

  • Rose

    please read

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