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Colin Devroe

Reverse Engineer. Blogger.

Slow down. Focus.

December 7, 2010

The world of information is speeding up. It has been since the beginning of man. What used to take years to get from one end of a continent to the other now takes an instant of time to span the globe in all directions. This is a good thing. Now more than ever in history people are aware of the world around them. Natural disasters are both known and assisted with on a global scale. News and information, mistakes and triumphs circumvent the earth so that all can learn from them.

However, something else about this information seems to be changing too. Its size. Seemingly it is being chopped up into smaller and smaller bits until what is left is but a few sentences. An entire story told in 140 characters.

This too is good in that this information can be easily distributed, consumed, and used in ways we’re only beginning to scratch the surface of. However, I think it is the way that we’re consuming information that might end up hurting us. I think that those of us that consume this stream of information on a day-to-day basis are actually training our brains to become bored easier.

It is a proven fact that one way humans can fight boredom is through variety. By switching tasks throughout a day you can avoid becoming bored with any one thing. Wake up, make breakfast, read some news, do some work, listen to some music, draw a picture, go for a walk, talk to some friends, watch some TV, read some email, go to bed. Most of us would look at this list and think “not a bad day”. However, a sure fire way to feed boredom is to grow accustomed to being able to switch tasks without completing the last one. If the next task is always available and easy to move to – what stops you from moving from one task to the other aimlessly – never accomplishing anything?

This is what the consumption of information is beginning to become. Not for everyone, mind you, but for a growing number of people connected to the Internet or their cellphones. Think about how many times you change topics in a given day based on how you consume information. You open your email and you have 20 unread messages from friends, family, and coworkers. Each of them has their own topic. You skim through them, replying to some, simply reading others. There is 20 topics in the span of only a few minutes. You open your favorite news website and scan through those topics. My last count on the CNN homepage was a few hundred different topics. Again, you could choose just one or two but the length of these articles is dramatically shorter than they used to be so you’re able to go from one to another in just a few moments. Now, you move over to your social network of choice – or maybe you’re part of more than one? – and you scan down through that stream. Your friend just ate some lovely sushi, your brother is golfing, your neighbor mentioned something you have no idea about so you follow that link to Wikipedia and spend 5 minutes figuring that out, your mother put up a photo, and – of course – you have to update with the type of coffee you’re drinking. Oh, and you just got an Instant Message from your cousin who wants to come visit and an audio chat request from your coworker for that meeting you had scheduled. This continues throughout the day.

Again, none of these are bad things on their own but by jamming them all together in just a few minutes of time we’re really training ourselves to be bored with whatever our current task is.

Not sure if this is effecting you? How many times do you check your phone, email, Twitter, Facebook, or __________ through out the day? When was the last time you read more than 40 pages in a book? Listened to an entire album without skipping or shuffling and doing nothing else but enjoying the music? Watched TV or a full movie without your laptop, iPad, or iPhone next to you? (For what its worth, Google TV-like devices are going to bring this “stream” to your TV making it even easier to be distracted and – ultimately – bored.) In fact, when was the last time you spent more than an hour on anything at all without being distracted by something else?

I’m willing to bet that many of you reading this notice this trend too. Most of you are probably OK with it. You feel more connected to the world around you than ever before, more informed than you’ve ever been, and more capable of spreading the word then the local news station. But chances are none of those are really true. What is going on at your local market? How is your family doing? What single topic are you most interested in at the moment? Are you learning anything new well enough to teach others?

Maybe it is time we all slow down a bit and pick just a few things to care about and focus on them instead of training ourselves to become easily bored. We need to start training ourselves to be focused, productive and interesting.