Waning Attention
Last Updated: 2019-08-08 18:04

I've been worried lately at my ability to do work and to focus and do work. Not Deep Work in the Cal Newport sense, of putting in several hours, mind you. More, like, closer to just the normal flow sense of "doing something and feeling the time disappear". I feel like I used to be better at getting absorbed into a task.

Now, though, whether I am doing homework, reading, or doing most sorts of cognitive tasks which ask for my attention, I notice myself slipping. Every few minutes, there's a compulsion to go and check Facebook, or to play a game of Pokemon Showdown, or to check LessWrong again for new posts, or to see if a new chapter of whatever manga I'm following is out. Independently of this, it seems like I can generally only manage to put in about 25 minutes of "good work" before I lose interest in the task and want to do something else.

The first reason why this is worrying to me is because it seems to be indicative of the extent to which I've actually become beholden to quick sources of reinforcement. While I don't have any active distractions which suck me in for long periods of time, I can't help but wonder if this is really much better. I could blame tech, of course, like I usually do. Reinforcement schedules and immediacy are powerful contingents for habit formation. But talking about the factors which brought this about doesn't make me any more satisfied with my situation.

I'd like to live life at a slower pace, and it seems that the speed at which I'm asked to process information in today's age is faster than I'd prefer.

And I'm stuck feeling like some older version of me, less entrenched by this mass of addictions, could be out feeling better and doing better work. I think maybe I feel like this a lot. It's also maybe worrying that I sometimes feel like better versions of me are in the past, given where I am right now in life.

Actionably speaking, there are more things I can do to cut myself off from the perils of social media. Interval-based reinforcement can curb the constant expectation and curiosity, the question of "Oooh, is there a new notification?" I wish this wasn't about tech, but it seems to be about tech. The majority of things I find asking for my attention are other things on the computer...which ping me when I'm on the computer. It's always the digital stuff that's making me feel "ugh".

But also writing stuff down on paper feels bad. Probably because I've also become accustomed to using the keyboard as a more direct medium for channeling my thoughts. Hah.

Slowly, though, I want to see change.