Distraction, it’s something that happens to all of us in today’s modern society. It can be enjoyable at times (scrolling though Facebook while waiting for a flight), but it can also lead to some terrible situations (scrolling though Facebook while driving).
Distraction is a hard word to define, it can be internal, such as thinking about other things going on in your life, but it can be also external, like watching television when you should be writing an essay. It can also be pleasurable or annoying, useful or harmful—not every type of distraction is the same.
It wasn’t always such a problem; distraction has been growing throughout time and there are two widely argued theories about why: spiritual and material.
The first theory has been around for ages, dating back at least to the seventeenth century when Pascal said, “all men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room.” Are we simply trying to distract ourselves from the loneliness or emptiness that we feel inside? The spiritual theory of distractions asks are we distracting ourselves from our troubled souls?
The second theory is that our urban, technology reliant society is the cause of our distraction. This material theory has been around since about 1903 when George Simmel reasoned that in cities that are being overrun with technology ,“stimulations, interests and taking up of time and attention” are so abundant that it’s become a “stream” that doesn’t require much effort for its ongoing. On the other hand, living out in the country where technology is less abundant, you have to find entertainment for yourself—distraction does not come as easily.
As urban living spreads portable technology, like smartphones and tables, allow us to bring that city-like experience with us. We allow our devices to distract us, or we can choose to be mindful of the way we use technology.
One example that comes to mind of the distraction that comes with the portability of technology is camping—when you go camping at a national park you’re there to be in nature, to relax, maybe explore. But at nearly any campsite to look into, you’ll see at least one person using a smartphone (if they’re lucky enough to get reception).
No matter which theory of distraction you believe in, I think we can all agree that distraction is becoming a bigger problem in today’s society. Distractions can stem from mindlessness, but we need to learn to become more mindful of these interruptions in our lives before we can overcome them.