Weapons of massive distraction
If it is true that technology dictates our pace, then Digital Calendars and ToDo e-lists should insist more with us. Motivational gurus preach that the best way to achieve goals in live is to write them down. Only by penning them the old fashioned way we can reach greater heights. I was skeptical about the old approach, hence I embraced the digital way. But technology is a weapon of massive distraction, and as soon as we pick up our hand held devices to type in a goal, a new distraction begins.
The other day I was adding an important business meeting to my calendar just when Whatsapp notified me about a new message. It was a close friend, sharing with me a beautiful and inspiring video. It was supposed to last 4 minutes, but before the first minute was over, I received a phone call. It was a coworker, asking for the contact number of a handyman able to service the leaking air condition unit in our office. I hang the phone to look for the handy man’s number, but I could not find it on my day-to-day device. It was probably on my other phone. So I went to the other room and grabbed my spare phone. I immediately noticed that it was running out of battery. Only 1% left!
So I quickly looked for the battery charger, but it was not in the drawer where I usually place it. “Someone must have moved it.” I thought. So I asked my wife if she had seen my second phone’s battery charger. She had no idea were it could be, but she suggested that maybe she left it in her car. So I took her car keys and headed out. As soon as I reach the car, I received an SMS on my first phone. “Never mind” I said. It was just the telecom operator informing me about their new promotion. “One too many!” I thought. Prior this one message, a long list of similar unsolicited SMS piled up. “A message a day times 30 days… There must be at least 60 SMS here”. I reckoned. How to erase the whole thread in one go? Is it by tapping the trash bin icon? Or first should I go to the menu, then find Delete All? Trying the former… No luck. Before I could even try the latter the phone ringed again.
Wrong number! “Arghh! What was I doing? Oh, right, batch deleting the operators messages.” Trying the second option… It also did not work! “I should ask my IT savvy friend… He always knows know what to do when it comes to cellphones.” So: open the dial pad and call the IT genius. He did not pick up the call. So I decided to send him a Whatsapp message. I started typing in English, but text came out in Arabic. Wrong keyboard. Change keyboard. Type a message to the IT friend asking how to batch delete all messages in a thread, so that I can go back to find the charger for my second phone, so that I can find the number of the handy man, so that I can give his number to my co-worker, so that he can fix the air condition unit while I carry on watching the motivational video and finally add the important business meeting to my digital calendar.
The slightly dramatised anecdote above is the caricature of what we have all become: fast thinking being unable to complete a single task without finding ourselves fully immersed into an ocean of other (more or less significant) tasks. Everything is overlapping on smart phone two-dimensional screens arranging our time one layer on top of another. Our productivity drops when searching for apps to download. If the developer dared put the app for sale, we promptly direct our search towards other free of charge options. At times we search for interminable minutes looking for free apps, videos, pictures or answers, that the very next week matter nothing to us.
In the era where a smart tool is meant to make us hyper productive, we reduced our brains to operate like slot machines. Pull the lever down and some 3 random notifications reach us. Twitter-Facebook-Instagram. Intagram-Whatsapp-Linkedin. Twitter-Twitter-Twitter. But the jackpot is only made of imaginary earnings, such as Like, Favourites and Retweets. None of them really count.