Sunday, October 20, 2013

That elusive thing called attention span

Its been quite some time now, that I've been dealing with plunging attention spans. Dont think it was like I woke up one fine day and discovered that I couldn't focus on a thing for too long. Its been on a gradual decline I guess. I struggle to read long articles at one go unless they're something I am really really interested in, otherwise there's the ubiquitous 'read later' option that I choose to stalk myself with- be it on all the desktop browsers I use, or my smart phone. And then they lie in cold storage- in my instapaper feeds. Google reader (earlier) and Feedly (now) are other avenues to this problem. And read later I do, much much later. And I don't know what transpires in between. Too many things vying for my attention?Yes,but I rather think it is a case of a fickle mind getting fickler by the day. I have caught myself looking at the same tweets on my PC, phone and tablet within a space of a few minutes and right then I do feel its crazy,but that fleeting moment of realization is quickly relegated to the background and crushed to death by some new link or a tweet or a joke which someone has made somewhere. If it happens to be a link to a long article, it is instapapered-off again. Rinse, repeat. That, ladies and gentlemen, is my online life in a nutshell.

And it is not just the online aspect of my life that seems to have been impacted. I used(it hurts to use a past tense here,but I'll have to admit) to be a voracious reader of the newspaper until, I guess, late 2010 or early 2011. Then a long-term onsite assignment happened. And a smart phone was bought. That was that. I was keen to keep my newspaper-reading habit going, so I subscribed to the WSJ print edition there, but it ended up being a disastrous marriage. There were many reasons to it, one of them being the lack of a long enough commute to office, but I wouldn't deny that super fast internet connections and the smart phone resulted in other extra-marital affairs, which, ultimately killed my relationship with the paper.

There would be times when I, in all my virtual glory, with the laptop on one side, tablet on the other and the phone in my hands, all their wires criss-crossing each other, entangled with each other and plugged into the power outlet ,have felt slightly like a patient in a hospital connected to all sorts of life-support systems, probably struggling to get a real life outside this complex web of the virtual life.SIGH.After returning to India, I was hoping that my old marriage with The Hindu would be revived. Revive it did, but I found myself fighting off the smartphone once again which would barge in between me and the newspaper, fuelled by whatsapp notifications and that irresistible urge to scroll through the twitter timeline and all other such distractions emanating from the phone.Probably like a second woman gate-crashing into your date, someone with whom you intend to get into a long term relationship. (On deeper thinking, I realize that given my history of scoring dates with girls,or the lack of it, its highly improbable that a second girl would want to barge in, let alone finding one girl wanting to date me. Anyway, I digress).I also notice that the reading sessions have now become labored,rather than free-flowing, a bit like a boring marriage well into its second or third decade.Also,more often than not, the 60-80 minute commute is not good enough to finish the newspaper(which was not the case in my pre-onsite days). (Did you see what I did there? A glaring contradiction of sorts where I first try to make a date-analogy and directly go on to make a two or three decade old marriage analogy to describe,umm, probably the same thing, but I digress again.) On weekends, I lie down on the couch with the newspaper hoping to do full justice to the time in hand, but it is a matter of time before i hug the paper and scroll away shamelessly on my phone. Much like hugging your beloved and exchanging flirtatious glances with another girl. 

One more thing I catch myself doing these days (I know I've used too many 'caught myself' instances here, but yeah, I'm trying to be honest) is that I am just reading through entire paragraphs without anything actually getting into my head. Well,because my mind is still pre-occupied or distracted with something else that had my attention just before I had embarked on reading the article. And then I shake my head in helpless frustration and go back to square one, with the equivalent pain of having to drill a hole into my brain to make way for what I am *actually* reading right now.

I've never been as voracious with books, but of late I've made my attempts to rectify that, and have picked up a few books on and off. Here too, I've failed miserably with some, by abjectly surrendering and abandoning half-read books. Though to be fair to myself, I think I'm doing slightly better here given the generally fickle state of my mind. And I hope to persist with this until I make book-reading an instinctive habit- something that I don't have to struggle with. But then, there are many other factors to it, I guess, like the type of books I pick up, how I manage my time, and above all, a genuine interest. 

Mainly, I am just exasperated that may be I don't spend enough time thinking and understanding things. May be I am just sipping and taking random bites and not ruminating enough, not doing any cud-chewing of any sort at all. And that is impacting my ability to write. Which I really want to do. Whether anyone reads or not is a different question, but at least to pander to my sense of satisfaction, I want to write, I really do. All this intake of fast food, in the form of twitter, instagram and other feeds are probably destroying my appetite and I would love to exercise more control over it and be able to just switch off from these addictions without having any withdrawal symptoms.  I have made a beginning by taking facebook out of my life, and I have to say I have succeeded to some extent- as in I was able to not activate it again for about two months until one day when a best-friend-couple got engaged and *I had* to login and wish them on the relationship status update even though I had made them known my best wishes from roof-tops in real life. Sigh. What a loser I am to think that I need to balance my real-life with my virtual-life. Of course I did de-activate it again, but now I am in a position where, at least once in 10 or 15 days, I reach out to that awkwardly hidden spot inside my mind which houses the urge to login to facebook and see the writing on people's walls. When the writing on my wall is quite clear. Damn,too bad these walls are not taken down by Mark Zuckerberg's geeks on de-activating an account. Quite cleverly,(I'd rather say sadistically) they have left the option of re-activating it anytime, pretty much like a shady drug dealer enticing a former addict who's going to rehab knowing very well when and where to find his dope if he really wanted to. That said, I don't want to completely give up Twitter, because it is actually a very very funny thing to be on- I'd rather adhere to a strict,uh, time regimen instead of continuously scrolling through tweets.

Anyway, so thats that. This is probably the lid going off after months of pent-up frustration from plumbing new depths of the attention span graph. I really hope there's an end to this.

ps1: I'm sorry if those marriage-affair analogies were in poor taste. Thats me trying dark humor, which, I admit may fall flat. 

ps 2:And I had to mention this- the drug dealer analogy was a nod to Breaking Bad. Which may be cheesy again. :D

ps3: In a classic case of #meta, I had attention span problems while reading the final draft of this post.

ps4: These postscripts were not brought to you by Sony.( Sorry. Couldnt resist a bad one after seeing PS2 and PS3). 

*Runs away*

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

And you had to get back to India to realize all of this? Sigh..

Anyway, your post just made me relive the really long conversations we'd have from one cup of coffee to another. (Yes, you can replace coffee with any other drink of your choice ;-) ) We have been inflicted by "social addictions" since ages. From the days of chatting around a corner of the alley around a bicycle then a motor bike in a group to liking each other's status updates, the ubiquity has spun into it being a taboo. And like any other social phenomenon, it has an angelic and a devilish side to it. One must see both the sides to understand the value and worth. IMHO.
Well worded post Sir! Kudos! I was laughing thoroughly throughout the extra marital analogy. Such fantasies this boy has!
//I had* to login and wish them on the relationship status update// - You "had to" you say? Well, I am sure they will be happy to take the blame. :-)

I too hope you put an end to this struggle. On that reassuring note, Cheers to your comeback (for long I hope) :-)