An age of distraction: Why you probably won't finish reading this.

In the few minutes it will take to read this post, it's highly likely you will pause to answer a text, check your phone, glance at a status update, or perhaps your mind will wander into things you have to do today.

Did you know?

#1 47% of the time, our minds are in a state of 'partial attention'. When this occurs we are not focused on what we are doing and we are less happy.

#2 The average human attention span has fallen from 12 seconds in 2000 to 8 seconds. Meanwhile, goldfish are believed to have an attention span of 9 seconds.

#3 It takes 23 minutes to get back on task after our attention is yanked away. (Gloria Mark, University of California). 

our attention span is shrinking.

Up until a few years ago I had no awareness of how little I used my attention.

The kind of attention I am writing about, is the attention we are born with and use when we are kids, noticing every detail around us and revelling in it. All too swiftly, we pass into a new phase of life revolving around productivity and distraction. 

Our ability to live moment to moment, with intention and awareness, to be here now, is diminishing. While wandering minds and thinking about the past and the future is not entirely bad, it's taking away from our ability to experience what's happening in the here and now.  

Why is it important to bring our attention to the here and now?

Because most of the thoughts that pass through our minds are not facts. They are concepts and stories. We spend time and energy thinking thoughts which are not truths and we skip past so many of the new experiences that the present moment offers.

Three articles recently caught my attention about this age of hyper-productivity and distraction that we find ourselves in today.

We have become gluttons for information.

Clay Johnson wrote a book called "The Information Diet: A Case for Conscious Consumption". He argues we live in an era of 'information obesity'. He shares some startling facts: we spend about 11 out of every 24 hours in a state of constant consumption. 'Not eating, but feasting on information spewed from our devices we hold so dear'. Just as we have grown morbidly obese on sugar, fat and flour, so too we have become gluttons for instant information, texting, face booking, status updates and tweets.

Kids in tech developed countries have shorter attention spans.

Tomorrow's Child reports that many children are spending several hours a day engaged with digital media. Throughout the US and Canada and other tech developed countries, experienced teachers describe many of their students as having much shorter attention spans, limited ability to think analytically and express their thoughts, and are more challenged to solve complex problems than in the past.

"our attention isn't ours to direct as we want."

Author Mathew B. Crawford recently shared his thoughts on fighting for attention in an age of distraction in both the Toronto Star and on CBC radio. In his book "The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction", Crawford writes about the virtues and limits of human attention, the relentless intrusions of the modern economy. Attention has become a commodity and precious resource and  "isn't really ours to direct as we want."

While I salute Crawford's insights regarding attention, I'm surprised by his suggestion that our attention is no longer ours to direct as we want.


because Neuroplasticity and mindfulness meditation point to the exact opposite.

A few years ago, I experienced a profound re-awakening and a strengthening of my attentional awareness. I am able to direct my attention where I choose and sustain it there. My memory is stronger than it's ever been. When my mind wanders, I no longer judge myself, instead I observe my thoughts with an open curiosity and bring my attention back to my intended focus. 

in 2009, Moore and Malinowsk found that meditators had significantly better attentional awareness. 

Thanks to science and research, we know that mindfulness meditation can decrease the size of the amygdala (responsible for anxiety) and increase the thickness of the hippocampus (responsible for working memory).

Mindfulness promotes metacognitive awareness, it decreases rumination and it strengthens our attentional capability through gains in working memory. These in turn, contribute to our ability to regulate our emotions more effectively.  

do I still have your attention? 

If so, then I would wish for you to take away this one thought: 

The art of noticing the world around us and our ability to live life in the present moment is diminishing.  But this is something we can actively change because each of us has the ability to strengthen our attention and direct it wherever we choose.  

Now that's an empowering and encouraging thought, isn't it?

I'm convinced that something in our souls is aching for change and I'm here to tell you that change is possible.

It is possible to live a life beyond hyper productivity, multitasking and milestones.

It is possible to strengthen your attention and take in more of life.

But my words alone won't convince you, and won't bring about change.

The kind of change you wish to see must come from within you.

(Image Copyright: Antonio Guillem/Shutterstock)