The letter came via snail mail. Sealed in a blue envelope. The return address was Chicago. I’ve been to Chicago. It snowed for three days. In March.
“Dear Sean,” the letter began, “I write for a little local paper, but I cannot focus enough to write anymore! I do not have ADD, but I might as well! Because every time I start to write I get sidetracked and eventually I start reading random stuff on my phone. Which reminds me, did you know that the piano was invented in Italy in 1709 by Bartolomeo di Francesco Cristofori?
Adam is 22 years old. He wants to keep writing journalistic pieces, but his main problem is a common one. Distraction.
When he sits down to write, no sooner has he started tapping away than his attention is diverted. Pretty soon, he’s scrolling through cyberspace, and his literary project is completely derailed, and did you know that green tea contains antioxidants that may prevent cardiovascular disease?
Well, Adam, I don’t know you personally. But I have a few guesses about what might be causing your problem.
Namely, the internet.
Also, your smartphone, smartwatch, earbuds, Spotify, YouTube, TikTok, social media in general, and the 101,397,903 video streaming service subscriptions that we pay for but never use.
All I can say is, I get it. And you’re not alone. Writing is not nearly as simple as it used to be because we live in an age of constant technological bombardment.
As I was reading your letter, for example, I received four text messages, two emails, a dozen phone notifications, and an e-invitation to my cousin’s fourth wedding. Also, I kept receiving news article suggestions from Google, recommended based on browsing history. One article was entitled, “What is the Net Worth of Pope Francis?” (Answer: 16 million bucks).
I’ve already forgotten what I was writing about.
Ah, yes. Distraction.
The thing is, writing used to be a lot easier. When I was a kid I could focus for hours. I’d sit in a closet with my Letera 32 typewriter, seafoam green, and I would type until my mother called said it was time to celebrate my 40th birthday. What happened to me? My phone has become such a part of me that yesterday I was digging through my car, searching for my lost phone BY USING THE FLASHLIGHT ON MY PHONE.
When I started writing professionally, I successfully resisted technology for years. I used to write newspaper columns on a manual typewriter, edit them in red pencil, retype them, then physically drive across town to the newspaper office to submit them in person.
Jeannie, the receptionist, would violently snatch the folder from my hands and say, “Why don’t you learn to use email like everyone else?”
So eventually I did. I switched to writing on a laptop. And everything went to heck. Suddenly it was MUCH harder to maintain attention. All of a sudden I was distracted by the internet.
It became paralyzingly easy to start goofing off, checking email, or watching video clips of Japanese game shows wherein half-naked men crawl into washing machines set to spin cycle and compete for time.
Then there’s the problem of my smartphone. My phone sits facedown on my desk as I write, but it vibrates each few moments. So I’m still distracted. And even when it isn’t vibrating, I still pick it up every 9 seconds just in case it does.
Here’s a real life example of what I mean. As I was writing the above paragraph, I received a stream of urgent text messages from my wife. One text read: “What was the name of that lady in Montgomery?” That was all the message said.
Now, what makes this text particularly remarkable is not the fact that my wife asked me the name of a completely random person without first citing the individual’s identifying characteristics, other than the fact that she is (a) female, and (b) she is from a city with a metropolitan area of approximately 374,220 residents. What makes this specific text unique is that my wife and I were in the same room when she sent it.
So anyway, I wish I could help you learn to focus, Adam, but the truth is that space heaters are responsible for about 1,700 fires and 80 deaths per year, according to the US Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Warren Larry Evans - April 17, 2023 11:02 am
Outrageously hilarious !
SandyL - April 17, 2023 1:39 pm
Oh wow did this one strike home. Just yesterday I was trying to figure out why I cannot get my projects done, I am 78 and a crafter. I have so many unfinished projects. I only do my laptop….no phones or anything else for distraction. But my mind goes from one thing to another and my hands follow. Is it because of the GMO’s? or other man made chemicals which have completely over hauled my mind? I sometimes wonder if I am a real physical being or if I am a figment of someone else’s imagination and then I can blame it on them. Well off to the next rabbit hole.
James - April 17, 2023 1:43 pm