Ever watched the movie ‘Up’? If you have you’ll probably remember the part where the Golden Retriever is talking with the man and the boy on their way to Paradise Falls and in the middle of a sentence his attention is stolen away and says, ‘squirrel!’ If you’ve ever had a Golden, they’re just like that and so are a lot of people I know (myself included). There’s a lot to learn from that. In today’s society the ‘skill’ of multitasking is nearly viewed as a virtue. Since I am a high school teacher I’ve witnessed students playing the part more and more over the last 10 years. What’s to blame for this phenomenon? Well I believe it’s more than any one thing and it’s having tragic consequences on people and society as a whole. Allow me to explain.
Technology has given us so many fantastic advancements in medicine, travel, and communications. Such advancements have improved our lives and I would include myself among people who wouldn’t want to live without most of them. But technology is stripping us of our focus. This may not be as true with older generations but people my age (30’s), and definitely younger, rarely do one thing at a time. Even as I type this I am also doing something else, and thinking about countless other things. Why is this possible? Because I have a smart phone that I can use to type a blog and do research at the same time while being involved in other tasks too. On top of that, technology in phones and internet have made it possible to do this quickly so that I can hurry and move on to the next thing on my list. If someone were here with me I am certain I could have a conversation with them while not stopping any of the things I’m currently doing. I say I’m certain but really I’m just deceiving myself, and so is anyone else who thinks they can text, drive, and carry on a meaningful conversation with someone, or any other combination of tasks.
There use to be a time when it was considered extremely rude to not give someone your full attention when talking with them. I’m not too young to have been taught that but I’m also in limbo between the era of manners and the technology revolution. Don’t get me wrong, I know there’s young people still today that honor others by giving them their undivided attention and still have the virtue of focus to a task. But those people are a minority today and I find myself slipping further away from that.
What’s it like to drive in a car with someone, with no music or phone, and carry on a conversation with them…just be with them. I think for far too many in the grand ole US of A that situation doesn’t look familiar, rather the silence would be deafening. How many families sit at home with no tv, movies, or phones, and just talk? How about studying, reading (like a book), cooking, sitting in a meeting, working, hanging with friends and family, etc…? You can continue the list. I find myself doing fewer and fewer things one at a time. I’m living distracted and I sincerely doubt that I’m the only one (more like 90% of Americans). Don’t you love it when someone makes up a stat like that?
We live in a very fast paced society, and that puts pressure on us to keep up or fall behind. Kids are brought up with that engrained in their minds, not necessarily because someone told them that but because they’ve observed those who have gone before them. Older generations are being assimilated into this fast paced technology society as well. What’s the result? Cultural ADD (attention deficit disorder).
Being in a high school I see so many cases of diagnosed ADD and ADHD and many undiagnosed cases as well (me being one). Fewer and fewer people are able to sit for long periods of time or focus on just one thing for a considerable length of time. True, technology has made it possible to accomplish things so much quicker and has even made new achievements possible so there are numerous benefits. However, I would argue we are a people who struggle with balance and because of this, there are tragic consequences.
You’d think multitasking would be exhausting…but wait…we have caffeine for that. I would argue that people’s emotional stability suffers as well. I know there’s a fix for that too; but let’s get real for a minute. Technology keeps a lot of people from being content. I doubt that would come up in a counseling session but think about it. Technology has made it so that we need to be doing something (and mostly doing multiple somethings) to be content. Watch a teenager get his or her phone taken away or observe the modern family at dinner all plugged in and you’ll see what I’m saying. It’s getting harder for our society to be happy and content with less or waiting for anything. Ever get anxious if someone doesn’t text you back right away? The conversation we’re having with the person right in front of us isn’t good enough so we need to be texting others too. Ever get frustrated when the web page doesn’t load instantly? Take technology out of our lives and we become discontent because it’s becoming more than advancement, it’s becoming a crutch.
Not only is our emotional wellness at risk but so are our relationships. But I have 398 Facebook friends and many more following my Twitter feed, I’m relating just fine. Actually I don’t have either one. I’m talking about the people we invest time and energy in doing life together. We’re all faced with the same question each day. We have 100% of our time in our hands…how many people and things are we going to parcel that out to? The greatest relationship that struggles because of technology is our relationship with God. Because of our fast paced culture we ‘don’t have time for God’ and more and more are saying that ‘we don’t need God’ because of this false sense of security in ‘our advancements’. When that relationship suffers everything falls apart and that’s when nations implode and relationships become unhealthy. Jesus Christ said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:37-39) I would say we can’t do either one effectively while we’re plugged in and with divided attention. No one can do more than one thing at a time 100% well.
I still believe there’s hope for myself and everyone else who relates to what I’m talking about. That hope lies in setting our priorities on God and people, slowing down and being present, and finding that balance with technology so that we’re running it and it’s not running us. We can and should use technology to advance and reach out to a hurting world but not at the expense of what matters most…the One who created us and the the one’s He has blessed us with. Alright my daughter is awake from her nap, time to unplug and hang with my princess.