In doing the ‘experiment’ of paying attention to my own attention span while reading Net Smart, I learned that I am not very good at paying attention. Thirty dense pages of analytical evaluations on studies of our attention span shouldn’t be too hard to read, right? Nope. It only took me a total of 48 hours broken up by eating, sleeping, texting, facebook-ing, and other extremely important elements in my life. At moments, I would try to force myself to completely focus on the reading but my attention only lasted for ten minutes. According to my data sheet, I remained the most focused at the beginning of my reading sessions. As time progressed I got more and more distracted by my anxiety to finish so I started skimming and skipping. In line with what Rheingold states about our ability to stay focused, I feel as if I am a part of the internet generation that has become lazy and almost lost the ability to ‘search’ instead of ‘surf.’
However, Rheingold did clarify that distractions in and of themselves aren’t always negative. He states that if it weren’t for distractions “we wouldn’t hear the taxicab when stepping off the curb (pg 43).” The issue comes to play when we don’t know how to train ourselves to ignore unnecessary distraction when trying to accomplish a specific goal (in this case, finishing the chapter).
My biggest ‘distraction’ when reading Rheingold’s chapter on attention was definitely the urge to respond to a text/email/facebook post or anything related to social media. Even though I was aware that I needed to try to control my ability to get distracted I still felt this STRONG urge to check my phone whenever it vibrated. Rheingold refers to this as an ADDICTION and refers to a study that biologically explains my obsession over checking my phone. Apparently a hormone called dopamine is released whenever there is a stimuli to respond to which explains my bodies urge to check my phone whenever it vibrated. This hormone is released for ALL stimuli but since social media is SO present in our lives these days it is clearly prevalent when our phones vibrate.
Although the human race seems to be slowly losing the ability to PAY ATTENTION there is still hope for all of us. Just as if we would go to soccer practice to get better at soccer, we can also do “simple exercises [to] increase our attention agility (pg 62).” On top of these exercises, the key to maintaining our ability to pay attention is mindfulness which involves being aware of paying attention on purpose (64). Maybe since there were fewer distractions ‘back in the day’ paying attention wasn’t so hard. However now that we are surrounded by distractions we need to ‘work harder’ or be more mindful of paying attention. Alongside more distractions comes more effort into paying attention!