My attention has always been a difficult thing to hold. While reading the Rheingold chapter on our changing attention spans, I had to force myself to stay focused on the pages, and even then I succumbed to minimal distractions such as responding to my phone and email. I believe the increase in technology and social media in our lives has definitely changed our attention patterns, but that change can not necessarily be cataloged as positive or negative.
Some reading can still hold my attention, if it has a plot or presents ideas truly captivating enough for me to choose to disregard other distractions. When reading the Harry Potter books, for instance, I opened them the moment I purchased them and barely stopped reading until I was finished. The only breaks I took were to sleep or go to school or work, which were unavoidable. I even chose foods I would eat while still reading the novels. While reading the chapter, knowing that I would be tempted to indulge in distractions due to the factual and pedagogical nature of the reading, I set page number goals restricting when I would let myself be distracted.I forced myself to read the first ten pages of the text without touching my computer, although I had my email inbox up on the screen and my phone within reach just in case something “important” arose.
Once I got about halfway though the chapter, I let myself take a break for the night and returned to the reading the following morning. This endeavor to finish the second half was much less disciplined and I took many short breaks to have coffee, eat breakfast, begin to get ready for the day, check my Facebook, and other activities. I also found that once I gave in to the allowance of distractions, I was more prone to continue on that path. I would turn back to the text occasionally, but at that point I was skimming to feel sufficiently complete with each page rather than absorbing each word.
While for some activities, the amount, convenience, and availability of the many distractions technology presents can slow down my progress, I find it helpful for other activities. While I am writing this blog post, for instance, I have both my inbox and Facebook tabs minimized, so that I can have them peripherally available without having to stop my activities. I am also watching a show streaming on Netflix in a side window, which serves as a background noise mostly, but also allows me to spend time writing the blog post while feeling entertained rather than rushing through my homework to get to a more interesting activity.
While I certainly feel text messaging, social media, and such easy and available access to the internet has provided me with more distractions, it has also increased my ability to multitask. I can quickly check different tabs and windows without ever having to actually leave the more important work I should be focusing on. I feel less of a need to take breaks and leave the task when I can just momentarily check another page and then return to my work. As Rheingold says in the chapter, having all of these distractions doesn’t necessarily lessen our ability to pay attention, it simply requires us to be more mindful of how our attention is being focused.