Posts Tagged ‘distraction’

Don’t read this post: the high cost of paying attention

In beauty, behavior, domestic life, Health, life, Technology, urban life, US on March 13, 2015 at 3:28 pm

By Caitlin Kelly

High above Paris --- silence!

High above Paris — silence!

One of the tedious tasks of suburban living, where most of us drive everywhere, is the constant need to pump gas.


The television screens and their incessant chatter right above the gas pump that some stations now inflict on offer to customers.

I would actually pay more for quiet gas-pumps. I so crave silence and downtime, those daydreaming moments we all need to just mindlessly stare into space for a bit…

Pratt's library -- with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

Pratt’s library — with one of the many sculptures dotting the campus

I love teaching college; I teach two two-hour classes every Thursday.

But Friday? I’m wiped! Paying close attention to what I offer and everything my students say, however enjoyable, is also really tiring.

Paying attention takes energy!

The Grand Canyon -- whose profound silence makes your ears ring

The Grand Canyon — whose profound silence makes your ears ring; photo: Caitlin Kelly

Where, short of the Grand Canyon or some other pristine wilderness, can you now luxuriate in pure, unadulterated silence?

Where, short of hiding in your own bed under the covers, (without your phone!), can you sit still and just think?

A new book explores the issue; an excerpt in The New York Times:

Attention is a resource; a person has only so much of it. And yet we’ve auctioned off more and more of our public space to private commercial interests, with their constant demands on us to look at the products on display or simply absorb some bit of corporate messaging. Lately, our self-appointed disrupters have opened up a new frontier of capitalism, complete with its own frontier ethic: to boldly dig up and monetize every bit of private head space by appropriating our collective attention. In the process, we’ve sacrificed silence — the condition of not being addressed. And just as clean air makes it possible to breathe, silence makes it possible to think.

What if we saw attention in the same way that we saw air or water, as a valuable resource that we hold in common? Perhaps, if we could envision an “attentional commons,” then we could figure out how to protect it.

The sad state of this commons is on display everywhere.

In the summer of 2011, just before Jose and I got married, he took me off to an eight-day silent Buddhist retreat.

My friends, knowing how chatty I am, figured that would be essentially impossible.

The first few days, (which I chronicled here at Broadside every day), were difficult.

No sound, just beauty

No sound, just beauty

But the greatest gift of the retreat was not having to pay attention.

We were told, all 75 of us from around the world assembled in an upstate New York monastery, that if someone looked at us, we did not have to look at them, smile at them or even acknowledge their presence at all.

We were not there for that.

It was the greatest freedom I’d ever felt.

As I wrote then:

I just don’t want to know half the things that total strangers feel somehow compelled to tell me.

(How about you?)

Many times I’ve been chided here for being “unfriendly”, and in so doing breaking the social rules everyone else follows so obediently, when it’s never been my personal goal to be friendly. I choose my friends and intimates very carefully. I don’t need or want everyone to like me. The idea, in fact, somewhat horrifies me.

A journalist since college, I’m professionally skilled at creating brief and powerful intimacy. I love that it requires me to win the confidence of strangers, of all ages and kinds, from convicted felons to elected officials (sometimes in the same person!) But it does mean I spend an inordinate amount of time making sure they feel comfortable with me, and will share with me as much as possible in the limited amount of time we have, whether by email, phone or face to face.

To not interact, to not have to manage my facial expressions or smile to cheer someone up who appears down or reassure them I am not down myself, is a release.

By the end, we were deeply reluctant to return to the incessant noise and chatter of Western life. Jose and I went to a local restaurant, and sat at the bar…where we were bombarded visually and auditorily, by three huge television screens.

It was weird and disorienting and exhausting.

When did silence become such a terrifying concept?

Do you treasure silence and disconnection as much as I do?


In beauty, behavior, culture, domestic life, life, nature, travel, urban life on November 24, 2012 at 12:49 am
Green silence / Silencio verde

Green silence / Silencio verde (Photo credit: victor_nuno)

Is this a noise you make?

Is this a sound — an imprecation, really — you hear?

Or ignore?

Here’s a fervent plea for public silence:

EVER since I quit hanging out in Baltimore dive bars, the only place where I still regularly find myself in hostile confrontations with my fellow man is Amtrak’s Quiet Car. The Quiet Car, in case you don’t know, is usually the first car in Amtrak’s coach section, right behind business class. Loud talking is forbidden there — any conversations are to be conducted in whispers. Cellphones off; music and movies on headphones only. There are little signs hanging from the ceiling of the aisle that explain this, along with a finger-to-lips icon. The conductor usually makes an announcement explaining the protocol. Nevertheless I often see people who are ignorant of the Quiet Car’s rules take out their cellphones to resume their endless conversation, only to get a polite but stern talking-to from a fellow passenger.

Not long ago a couple across the aisle from me in a Quiet Car talked all the way from New York City to Boston, after two people had asked them to stop. After each reproach they would lower their voices for a while, but like a grade-school cafeteria after the lunch monitor has yelled for silence, the volume crept inexorably up again. It was soft but incessant, and against the background silence, as maddening as a dripping faucet at 3 a.m. All the way to Boston I debated whether it was bothering me enough to say something. As we approached our destination a professorial-looking man who’d spoken to them twice got up, walked back and stood over them. He turned out to be quite tall. He told them that they’d been extremely inconsiderate, and he’d had a much harder time getting his work done because of them.

“Sir,” the girl said, “I really don’t think we were bothering anyone else.”

“No,” I said, “you were really annoying.”

“Yes,” said the woman behind them.

My husband won’t go to the movies anymore, at least not in the evening, and the reason is twofold — other people attending are so rude and noisy, and I spend too much time hissing at them or saying, loudly, “Shut up!”

Which is, yes, very rude of me.

I admit it, I lost it last week.

I was sitting, reading a book and savoring a coffee, enjoying the luxury of leisure in Manhattan before meeting a friend for dinner. A woman right beside me — with lots of room to sit further away — shouted into her cellphone in Portuguese.

“Can you please lower your voice!?” I finally asked, fearing a nasty fight. To my surprise, she moved immediately and came back to apologize, explaining she’d been speaking to her son, via Skype, in Brazil.

Silence is healing, soothing, calming. It lowers our heart rate and speed of respiration. It allows us to focus on our other senses. It offers us a deep, refreshed sleep. It allows us to focus and concentrate our attention, whether on work, reading or a spectacular work of art in a museum or gallery.

In this post, from July 2011, you’ll read all the sounds I became newly aware of on an eight-day silent retreat Jose and I took. I posted several short essays that week, as peeling away the cocoon of noise/music/conversation/traffic laid bare a fresh set of insights and appreciations that were simply unattainable within the noisy distractions of everyday life.

Here’s the essay I wrote about it for Marie Claire magazine — and what I learned about love expressed through action, not mere words.

When Jose and I re-emerged, reluctantly and nervously, into “real life” I immediately noticed how edgy and anxious noise renders me. I eat more, more often and more quickly. My mood alters, and rarely for the better.

I treasure silence, an increasingly rare commodity.

Do you savor silence?

Where, in your daily life, do you find or create it?

I’m Boooooored! (Thank Heaven)

In behavior, culture, education, entertainment, Media, parenting, Technology on December 31, 2010 at 1:05 pm
Cinderella Castle at the Magic Kingdom, Walt D...

I have to wait to be happy? Really????? Image via Wikipedia

As reported in The Wall Street Journal, a recent conference was designed to be dull:

Boring 2010 is the handiwork of James Ward, 29 years old, who works for a DVD distribution and production company. In his other life, as the envoy of ennui, Mr. Ward edits a blog called “I Like Boring Things.” He is also co-founder of the Stationery Club, whose 45 members meet occasionally to discuss pens, paper clips and Post-it Notes.

For another of his projects, Mr. Ward over the past 18 months has visited 160 London convenience stores and made careful notes about a popular chocolate bar called Twirl, including the product’s availability, price and storage conditions. He publishes the details online.

Boredom has become a serious subject for scientific inquiry. For example, a 25-year study of British civil servants published earlier this year found that some people really can be bored to death: People who complain about “high levels” of boredom in their lives are at double the risk of dying from a stroke or heart disease, the study concluded.

The “Boring Institute,” in South Orange, N.J., started as a spoof. Its website says it now plays a more serious role describing “the dangers that are associated with too much boredom and offers advice on how to avoid it.”

Contrast this European lassitude with the go-go-gotta-keep-’em-happy machinations at Disney World, as reported in The New York Times:

To handle over 30 million annual visitors — many of them during this busiest time of year for the megaresort — Disney World long ago turned the art of crowd control into a science. But the putative Happiest Place on Earth has decided it must figure out how to quicken the pace even more. A cultural shift toward impatience — fed by video games and smartphones — is demanding it, park managers say. To stay relevant to the entertain-me-right-this-second generation, Disney must evolve.

And so it has spent the last year outfitting an underground, nerve center to address that most low-tech of problems, the wait. Located under Cinderella Castle, the new center uses video cameras, computer programs, digital park maps and other whiz-bang tools to spot gridlock before it forms and deploy countermeasures in real time.

Give. Me. A. Break.

Seriously. Once you have passed the age of, say, five or maybe seven, it’s not the world’s job to entertain us 24/7. No, really, it’s not!

I do not have children so have been blessedly spared the arms race to keep the little ones perpetually stimulated with DVDs in the car, in their laps, anywhere they might actually have to sit still, alone, in silence for a while. Horrors!

I grew up an only child and, like many of my ilk, learned very young to play on my own, to amuse myself without technology or TV or the endless distractions of other people’s attention and interaction.

This is a Very Good Thing.

I feel nothing but pity now for anyone at any level of the educational system who must cope with children, and the adults they grow into, who are now chronically incapable of silence, solitude, patience and unaided thought.

Ideas come when we have the time, space and — yes — boredom — to think, to ruminate, to reflect and make connections.

One of my favorite recent books is this one, “Distracted” by Maggie Jackson. She makes, I think, a cogent and compelling argument against hyperactivity, multi-tasking and CPA, the scourge of our age. Continuous Partial Attention was named back in 1998, long before life meant all-interaction-all-the-time.

I love allowing myself to get bored.

When I say “I’m bored” it almost always really means I’m frustrated. Then I go figure out why.

How about you?

One City's Drivers Have Already Killed 16 Pedestrians This Year — Are PDAs To Blame?

In Crime, news, Technology on February 1, 2010 at 8:07 am

Here’s one city you do not want to stroll through, head-down, focused on your Ipod or Blackberry or cellphone.

Toronto, my hometown, has seen 16 pedestrian fatalities so far this year — that’s almost one every other day — since January 1, 2010.

You’re statistically most vulnerable at 3:00 p.m. on a Wednesday in November. Senior citizens are also extra vulnerable to this form of accident.

The Globe and Mail has an interesting piece trying to figure out why:

Why is it that Toronto has the highest pedestrian collision rate of any major city in Canada?

Mike Brady That’s perplexed a lot of people. What information isn’t here is the relationship between pedestrian collisions and the volume of road users moving through the community on an annual basis. All we’ve done is relate collisions to population. But what we don’t have is the ability to relate it to road users on an annual basis. I can’t tell you if there are more pedestrians in Toronto per capita than there are in Montreal, Halifax, Vancouver. We don’t have that data. For lack of a better comparison, this is what we arrived at. What I hope it’s telling us is that, as a community, we have a huge potential for improvement.

Bryan Bowen I will never forget the first time I visited Halifax. If I even turned to face the street, no matter where I was on the block, cars would quickly come to a stop and wait for me to cross. Feeling guilty for holding up traffic, I would end up crossing whether I needed to or not. Toronto motorists are, however, a generally self-interested bunch, and pedestrians would be well advised to be constantly vigilant and skeptical.

Two more died this week, killed by buses — one of them using a cellphone at the time.


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