Distraction & Love


David Kanigan, over at Lead.Learn.Live, this morning posted this excerpt from a book by Tony Schwartz .  I read it and commented.  I’m reposting my commenting here as well, because it goes to the heart of what I write about on this and my other blogs.


“I believe this is a very special moment in history, a kind of perfect storm. There is a growing recognition — to borrow language from AA — that our world has become unmanageable…The addiction of our times is digital connection, instant gratification, and the cheap adrenalin high of constant busyness. The heartening news is that more and more are beginning to recognize the insidious costs of moving so relentlessly and at such high speeds. Just below the surface of our shared compulsion to do ever more, ever faster, is a deep hunger to do less, more slowly. I saw proof of that a couple of weeks ago, when I wrote an article for The New York Times titled “Relax! You’ll Be More Productive.” It focused on the growing scientific evidence that when we build in more time for sleep, naps, breaks, and vacations, we become not just healthier and happier, but also more productive. The piece prompted an avalanche of response, much of it poignantly describing the sense of overwhelm people are feeling at work…Speed, distraction, and instant gratification are the enemies of nearly everything that matters most in our lives. Creating long-term value — for ourselves and for others — requires more authentic connection, reflection, and the courage to delay immediate gratification. That’s wisdom in action.”

– Tony Schwartz, How To Be Mindful in An “Unmanageable World”

(My comment.  And I edited this and slightly expanded on it, Fri., March 1, 2013, in the morning)

Technology can be used for good or ill.  Certainly I see it in children, the attention-deficit, the hyperness, the inability to sit still for more than a minute or two.

Pascal, back in the 1600’s, wrote (and I’m paraphrasing this from memory) — “All of our problems are caused by our inability to sit still quietly alone in a room.”

2013-03-01 - 4

All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” – Blaise Pascal, “Pensees

Busyness isn’t new.  It’s just much much easier to do nowadays.

And this abundance of new technology also allows us to deepen and become wiser, if we’re selective and wise (mindful) about how we do it.

We can write and blog in a way that helps develop our own critical thinking skills and our ability to examine ourselves and our world.  We can write longer and hopefully thought-provoking posts.

Of course, based on personal experience, the lengthier the post I write, the less “likes” it tends to receive, not to mention the less comments as well.  So I must conclude that either my posts are off-putting because of their length, their content and possible depth, their subject matter, or their tone–i.e. maybe I’m just a huge off-putting bore, arrogant know-it-all, pedantic preachy pontificator, et cetera, et cetera.  Or perhaps some bit of all of the above.

I put constant twittering and facebooking and blogging in the same category distraction-wise as gossip magazines, frivolous books, most pop music, most TV shows and even movies.  We can’t tweet our way to a significantly better and more examined life.  (Can we?)  We can’t improve our lives and up our level of thinking by continuing to think in tweets and platitudes and cliches and soundbites.  We have to slow down, pause, reflect, think more deeply, more critically, with more breadth and depth, examine ourselves, be honest and candid with ourselves, read decent books, read something of substance, and do all of this every day.

And this takes time.  And effort.  (And discipline.)

There is so much out there competing for our already divided attention.  There is so much out there competing to numb us even more than we already are.

But all of this stuff wouldn’t appeal so much to us if we weren’t already susceptible to it, if we weren’t already deeply looking to divide ourselves and decimate our thinking skills and numb ourselves.

And from what are we trying to constantly numb ourselves?

It’s obvious.

The same stuff that the Buddha elucidated over 2500 years ago–our own impermanence, and the threats of illness, old age, death.  Loss, of one form or another.

Sit still quietly in a room, and deep down this is what we’re all afraid of and trying to deny and somehow circumvent.

So what’s the alternative?

Distraction is the well-traveled path.  The vast vast majority of human beings have been doing it for ages.

The alternative to the path of least resistance is the road less traveled by.  It’s a tough and lonely road.

Is there some middle way, some way of really facing our own mortality and still enjoying the fruits of technology?

We want to connect, but we don’t seem to want to face our own mortality and or that of others.  So how can we truly connect with each other if we’re not just constantly busy and distracted, but if we’re living in denial?

That’s my question.

Any suggestions, opinions, ideas, thoughts?

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About John

I am a married, 46-year old, Midwesterner, with four children. My primary interest is in leading a very examined and decent and Loving life; my interests that are related to this and that feed into this include (and are not limited to) -- psychology, philosophy, poetry, critical thinking, photography, soccer, tennis, chess, bridge.
This entry was posted in David Kanigan, Tony Schwartz, Truth, Uncategorized, Waking Up, What is Love? and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to Distraction & Love

  1. Reblogged this on Teacher as Transformer and commented:
    This is a wonderful post. I have been reading about being present in the digital age. John is accurate busyness is not new. It might be harder to manage. Thomas Merton warned us about the violence of activism decades ago and Parker Palmer has reiterated the theme over the years. The person I am most afraid of listening to is my self. It takes the fullest presence to hear my spirit, my soul, my inner voice. The need to sit with one’s self is essential to life.

    • John says:

      Thank you, Ivon, for commenting and for reblogging this. I very much appreciate you doing that and introducing my blog to your audience. 🙂

      And I agree with you: Sitting down with oneself is so so essential in life. As Camus wrote, “everything begins with consciousness and nothing is worth anything except through it.” Or as Socrates said, “the unexamined life is not worth living.” But it’s also tough and oftentimes scary stuff, because it tends to bring up the existential stuff.

      But, irrespective, it needs to be done. Because if it’s not done, then we tend to be unconsciously driven in a very basic way regarding why we do what we do, and we tend to sense intuitively that slowing down and contemplating our life and lot in the grand scheme of things, is like opening a Pandora’s Box of anxieties and fears and terrors. So why do it? Why do that to ourselves? Why not live as unconsciously as possible? Why not “dance through life” (as they sing in “Wicked” — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NKds0aM1NVs)? Why not skim the surface? Sure, surface skimming has its troubles, but at least they’re not of the “I wish I didn’t know now what I didn’t know then” variety.

      So why do that to ourselves?

      Especially when so many people around us are also not doing it to themselves?

      “Everyone should strive to learn before they die, what they are running from, and to, and why.” – James Thurber

      I agree. It’s the only way to make for a truly better society. Millions of people in denial about their own and each other’s mortality will never create a better society, because their society will always be based on what they’re afraid of and in denial of, and keeping their cherished denial and avoidance mechanisms in play. That is what “Freedom” and “Happiness” will mean to them. (The pursuit of happiness will amount to better and better ways of avoidance and self-numbing, especially disguised ways of self-numbing.)

      Of course millions of people facing their own mortality and yet being unable to deal with doing so, may not be any better of an option. It may lead to even nastier ways of leading lives of quiet and not so quiet desperation.

      A lot to think about and ponder. . . .

      But I digress. . . . Thank you for reblogging this post, Ivon, and for your wonderful and kind comment.

      Kindest regards,


  2. Shashi Moore says:

    Dear John, I’m intrigued by your comment and sure do share some of your concerns, However I wish to draw your attention to the fact that decimated thinking skill is not all that bad; the three (individual, institution and community) are protagonist in the realm of existence. 🙂

    • Jennifer says:

      Could you elaborate on why decimated thinking skills are not bad? That seems incredulous!

      • John says:

        Hello Jennifer 🙂

        I had a similar question. I suspect that Shashi may be referring to diffuse attention, which certainly has its place in our ever more complex society–think of all of the micro skills needed to drive a car, all of the things to pay attention to–road signs, traffic, anticipating other drivers’ possible moves, road hazards, et cetera.

        So how to end a public response to my wife? I love you dearly, darling? Life with you and the kids is fantastic. Thank you for that. 🙂 Will that work 🙂


    • John says:

      Hello Shashi,

      Thank you for reading and for commenting. I appreciate it.

      And I am not sure what you mean by the last part of your comment–“decimated thinking skill is not all that bad; the three (individual, institution and community) are protagonist in the realm of existence.” Can you elaborate on this and perhaps define your terms? I suspect that perhaps what you mean by “decimated thinking” may be something different than I mean by it.

      Kindest regards, Shashi, and thank you again for reading and for commenting.


  3. optimisticgladness says:

    Really good! Thank you for this re-blog!

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  5. dogear6 says:

    Excellent post. I need large chunks of solitude to function at my best and thankfully my husband and sister understand (my daughter, not so much).

    Amy Andrews at Blogging by Amy has a time management book. Recently someone left her a comment about how nice it is that she has all this free time but that’s not reality. She wrote back (nicely) that she had free time because she made choices and limited where she directed her attention to. I thought it was a great response.

    I know if I blog, I will not have time to read or write in my journal. Thankfully, using my camera does get me outside and make me more observant. I try to not watch TV unless it’s late at night and I’m already brain dead, although to be honest, Sherlock Holmes stories are always a great outlet when I’m too tired for anything else. I’ve read them so much over the years, I don’t have to pay too close of attention to enjoy them.

    I’ve noticed the same thing with my blog that you comment on – the longer or wordier my posts, the fewer likes. My readers really like it when my posts are mostly photos. I enjoy my photography, but I don’t think that is where my gifts are calling me to. So I write and have fewer readers? It seems a poor choice, but I’ve already cut back on how often I post because of that.


  6. Kozo says:

    Great post, John. I just heard an NPR program about tech-free retreats where they don’t allow you to have any phones or computers. People go crazy until they realize how wonderful actual conversations or activities can be.
    I do think that all these toys are distractions. They desensitize us from real life, whether that be impermanence or real feelings and emotions.

  7. Viv says:

    Pascal also said, The heart has its reasons whereof reason knows nothing.
    I wonder if the pain some of us feel is less agonising if we move, the way some physical pain is relieved by movement, and so we move to escape from the pain and never stop to listen to what the pain is telling us.
    For me, I stay home a lot, not because I am content there but because outside holds worse pain, and the promise of yet more. Loneliness is why most cannot stay quietly in their room.

    • John says:

      Hello Viv,

      Thank you for reading and for commenting. And my apologies for the delay in responding.

      But I think it just goes to the point of that post and trhe one I wrote after it. I have often considered getting rid of the “like” (or the self-shout-out–meaning the person who presses the button is giving themselves a free shout-out–“hey, come read my blog!”) button at the bottom of my posts. But ultimately I have kept it because I know that there are times when I have read someone else’s (usually pithy) post and had nothing to add to it, and so instead of commenting I have hit the like button, as in “good job, I read your post, I agree with what you wrote, and I have nothing to add” (or I don’t have time to really write something right now.)

      Or I just hit the like button to let the writer know that I read his or her post and I’ve commented before and tried to engage in some sort of give and take or exchange of view points, but the other person just writes pithy throw away responses to any comments left for him or her; or my comment never makes it out of moderation (for whatever reason). So on the one hand, what’s the point of commenting? And in such cases, I usually just post my comments on one of my blogs, basically turning my comment into a post of its own and then reference back to the original post. (Which, I want to make clear, is not what happened here in reference to David’s comment. I like and appreciate that David actually takes the time to write personal and thoughtful repsonse to many of his readers comments, especially where the comment seems to warrant it. I simply posted my comment here because after writing it I realized that I had in fact written something that could stand on its own as a post, and that it also pertained to Love. But I also wanted to link back to David’s original post and give credit where credit is due.

      Now, all of what I have just written was a rather long way of saying that I appreciate that you took the time to actually write a thoughtful comment in response to my post, and not just hit the like button (and I’m not coming down on everyone who hits a like button, but there is a bit of irony that this post–one of my shorter ones–drew so many hits and likes, but still so few comments).

      It’s all a matter of time. It takes time to write, it takes time to read, it takes time to think, it takes time to slow down and read and think and then write. Time, time, time. . . .

      Speaking of which, Viv, my free time is up right now, so I will continue my repsonse later and respond to your words.

      Kindest regards, Viv, and thank you for reading and writing and reading this comment as well.


  8. Hi John,

    I have come to believe that people who are easily distracted WANT to be distracted.

    Recently, I asked around the office whether people would choose the red pill or the blue pill (ref: The Matrix – the red pill represents enlightenment, the blue ignorance). They all said “blue”, and I work in publishing – a community of educated creatives – where one might presume to find people who are receptive to exploring their consciouness.

    Many simply don’t want to face the truth about themselves, and I believe that’s down to fear – the fear that the truth will be too great to bear.


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