(TL;DR – Technology is killing our attention span and making us stupid, but we can save ourselves with discipline and self-control.)
Millennials have been the test case for a massive experiment.
What happens when you take a human being, and immerse him in rapid-fire sensory stimuli and instant informational gratification from the age of five and up? What happens to a generation that spends the better part of most days in front of a computer screen, glued to a smartphone, or bombarded by the choppily-edited sound-bite television that dominates the mainstream networks?
Answer: That generation becomes stupid. Supposedly, we are tech-savvy, social media, Web 3.0 experts. We are the wired generation. We are Infovores. The lecture hall echoing with the soft clicks of Smartphone keyboards is a valuable case study in multitasking.
Our language is awash in positive-sounding euphemisms for people who spend their lives lurching from one byte of information to the next. But how many of us has read a book from cover to cover in the past month? How many are even still capable of such a feat? Some of us can’t get through a blog post without checking our email.
It wasn’t always like this. Once upon a time, our grandparents read books that were just words on pages. No unnecessary paragraph breaks, no flashy infographics every second page. Crazy, I know. They somehow powered through entire workdays without checking their Email or Reddit once.
As a result – and you can confirm this yourself by reading books written before the age of mass communication – their thoughts were clearer and than ours. They were able to sit, concentrate, and grapple with an idea for an extended period of time.
Our present minds, beaten into easily-distracted mush by information overload, are incapable of such feats. Almost everyone born after 1940 (and especially 1980) has spent their entire adult lives over-stimulated. The result is a shallow, unfocused, unthoughtful world. If an idea can’t be compressed into 160 characters, it’s doomed to live outside the minds of all but the most self-disciplined 21st century thinkers.
So how do we protect ourselves from the information firehose? Here’s my advice:
– Manage your information diet. Don’t be a slave to instant information gratification
– Meditate. It’s not hard. Be still, clear your head and think about nothing. Which will make you think about Seinfeld. Which will make you feel guilty for not thinking about nothing, and hey don’t I have to renew my cell phone plan soon? And… OK maybe it is hard. But it gets easier, it makes you realize how little stillness there is in our lives, and its a good time fill if you’re accustomed to an hour of TV every night.
– Commit to Uni-tasking for all but the most basic of tasks, like walking and talking on the phone, or taking a dump while brushing your teeth (wait, what?).
Your goal is to turn down the volume knob on your reality. Submitting to distraction is, at best, a complete waste of your scarce time alive.