Distracted by the digital

THE art of focus in an age of distraction is becoming difficult to master. At times, I get carried away on the wings of emotion and fancy when life requires me to stick my feet in the mud, keep my eyes on the prize and slog on.

Everything today wires us to become distracted beings. We are praised for flinging off adherence to specific codes of behaviour and diving headlong into a sea of fleeting desires and consuming distractions.

At the same time, however, there is the pressure to achieve "success", often times defined as becoming a big fish in your field of work, finding a partner, racking up assets or crafting a solid retirement plan. The funny thing is, these goals require focus. But so many of us are distracted.

In my younger, less distracted days, I could read three books in a day. I could sit and draw for hours. These days, I can't even digest three chapters of a book without getting up to make a hot drink, have a snack, check my text message, walk around and scroll through Facebook.

Researchers have found the culprit of our decreasing ability to concentrate on anything: technology. My first response was to scoff at the findings, for I certainly do not consider myself technologically savvy. I am mostly an observer on the social platforms, and frankly prefer real life communication over words and photos on a screen.

Things changed, however, when I began using Instagram a few months ago. I had a dormant account that I revived to stay updated on friends and to keep tabs on my little sister.

Instagram is a whole new world for me. I find that Malaysians enjoy taking photographs of their food, leisure activities and themselves. It's pleasant to see the people and things they appreciate, and to admire good photographs.

After several weeks, however, I noticed a disturbing habit. My thumb would find its way to the pink-yellow icon several times each day, giving no heed to any task at hand or urgent work that needed to be done.

You could find me browsing Instagram while doing the dishes, having lunch or in the middle of a workday shadowed by a looming deadline. I could not understand my compulsion and my inability to control it. I was finding it difficult to complete any task without a dose of Instagram.

I decided to Google "lost ability to focus" and every result pointed to the culprit: technology. According to Professor Gloria Mark of the University of California, digital distractions are causing our ability to concentrate on individual tasks to deteriorate.

I am horrified at the prospect of losing my ability to focus, and becoming addicted to the digital. I miss being able to read a book undisturbed by my own thoughts, or to simply sit and watch the clouds change shape for an hour without experiencing boredom.

But breaking any habit requires more than acknowledgement of the problem; it requires discipline. I am not the most disciplined person, but the thought of being sucked into a spiral of endless stimulation with no down time frightens me.

Many of us may be living with the enjoyment of distraction, for it almost always means that one is never bored. Some of us may want to continue the experience, some may not. I don't, so I'm trying to limit myself to opening Instagram only once a day.

If you're looking for some down time and find yourself mentally exhausted often, think about weaning off dependence on the digital. Explore other interests that don't require you to touch technology. Take a step back and reset.

Comments: letters@thesundaily.com