Are we suffering from attention deficit disorder as a society due to our phones, screens, and social media? CPG Grey and Brady Haran of the Hello Internet podcast (H.I. #108 Project Cyclops) suggest we are, which I tend to agree with. And, who’s responsible? Surely it’s our fault that we’re addicted to our phones. Yet, we’re fighting against big institutions that want to control our attention in ways that move us to buy their products. Grey calls this the attention economy. So, start listening at 1:08:28 and listen to Grey and Brady discuss this interesting and important topic. 

Case in point: Grey relates his experience at the Newark, New Jersey airport, where chairs and iPads are bolted down, forcing you to stare into screens that are constantly playing ads, current news, or airport info they want you to watch. I was in that airport in July and experienced it. I found it almost impossible to get away from the constant stream of information. Another example I’ve experienced is when pumping gas. As soon as I turned on the pump, advertisements blared out of a speaker. I couldn’t shut it off; I couldn’t turn the loud volume down; I couldn’t get away from it. I had to cover my ears to avoid the obnoxious sound. Grey calls this a kind of environmental pollution for our minds.

The battle for our attention is intense and companies are finding creative ways, grounded in neuroscience, to get us to pay attention, make choices, and take actions that they want us to. Science tells them where the fovea of our eyes look when we see an advertisement or what words to use to connect us with our unconscious biases. 

If you’re finding you have a problem paying attention to something for no more than a few moments, then you’re suffering from this society attention deficit disorder. The Warrior’s Way training has two parts that can help with this: developing the ability to sustain attention and allowing the mind to cycle into doing nothing. 

One way of developing the ability to sustain our attention is through body awareness drills. We direct the flow of our attention out of the mind and into the body, by focusing on our senses. We sustain our attention on sensation, what we hear, what we see, etc. When we notice attention is distracted into thinking, we redirect it to the senses. Additionally, we allow the mind time to do nothing. This can include letting the mind wander, watching a movie simply for fun, or relaxing. We might mow the lawn without listening to music or podcasts. Or, walk the dog and just be with the experience. 

Both of these help us gain better control over our attention, but don’t expect to do them perfectly. Our attention will continue to be distracted. The main point is to bring consciousness to this process, to notice that it’s happening. That’s a great start for diminishing our attention deficit and being more intentional in how we live our lives.

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  1. I experienced this flying on an airplane recently. I boarded a very early flight, must have only been 7 AM. There were small screens installed on the backs of the headrests on every seat, and they loudly played ads for other companies, and ads / services mostly for the airline I was on. I felt like you, practically I felt “violated,” like they knew I would not be able to “get away” from their messages. While I was able to turn the screen off, turning it off was not intuitive, and literally not a single other person on the flight seemed to notice or care. At 7 am– I even took a picture of this and sent it to my bf– every person I could see was staring at the screen, not seeming to mind at all. It was stunning and simply horrifying to me! Like a scene out of Fahrenheit.

    I actually touched on this attention span topic on my old blog back in 2010 in this short post: http://vampirebird.blogspot.com/2010/07/this-would-be-good-post-to-read-for.html

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