Is Our Attention Fractured?

How much is too much?

In many ways, we live in a golden age of media content. Thanks to education, more people know more about more topics than ever before. And thanks to the Internet, production and distribution are cheaper and easier than ever.

It would take you a lifetime to watch all the shows and movies on Netflix. Would you like to listen to a podcast on cryptozoology? You have your choice between dozens. You can get lost at your local library, in e-books or the old-fashioned print kind.

No generation in history has had access to so much. To put it another way, there have never been so many demands on our attention as there are now.

What does that mean for us?

There’s no reason to ever have an unproductive moment. Do you have a spare moment waiting in the grocery checkout line? You can scroll through social media. Riding the bus to work? Read an article from that niche magazine you like. Zoning out while on the treadmill at the gym? Listen to a workout mix from a streaming music service.

All this content means we can consume more. In theory, that means we are exposed to more, and more diverse, stories. But do we need time to actually be able to process this information? Rather than just going on to the next book, the next podcast, the next article, the next blog, is it necessary to take some time to internalize, to place the information in context? In addition, if we want to make content ourselves we need to alternate between consumption and production.

Moreover, in child development, isn’t it necessary that children learn to entertain themselves? How can that be done if they are constantly being entertained by other sources?

Occasionally, it is only through absence that we come to appreciate the world. Your favorite food tastes even better if you haven’t had it for a year. The warmth of summer feels all the better after the cold of winter. To that end, do we need to spend some time NOT reading or listening to stories, binging TV shows, or watching movies in order to appreciate them all the more?

Is some downtime required? How do we choose between the multitude of demands on us? Is our attention fractured?

Related questions: Are we too busy? How can we maintain wonder? How do you set priorities? What makes something memorable? What are you willing to sacrifice?

What Is The Value Of Inefficiency?

Everyone wants to be productive. Our jobs demand it, our busy lives require it, and our brains crave constant stimulation. But is there a value to wasting time? Of inefficiency?

Generally, different people use different methods to maximize their time spent on things. To-do lists. Productivity software. Comprehensive calendars.

If we feel overworked, that might stress us out, so our solution is to try and maximize our daily routine. Perhaps you can shave a few minutes off of making breakfast. Showering at the gym might save some time. Listening to audio books or podcasts during your commute allows you to make better use of wasted time.

However, there is some value to unstructured time. Having a tightly-packed schedule where every minute is accounted for is subject to disruption. An unexpected event can throw an entire day into chaos.

Beyond that, there is some indication that proper functioning of the brain requires some down time. After all, what is our need for sleep if it is not inefficient? For roughly eight hours each night we lie still in the dark, as our brains, through dreams, process events from the day or worries we might have. That’s not very good use of time!

Our higher-level, strategic thinking is not something that can be done while running errands or performing routine tasks. For that, you need to devote time to thinking. And sitting and thinking doesn’t appear, from the outside, to be very productive.

In addition, people need to have some time that is spent just relaxing. Just as a muscle can only work for so long before it needs to rest, our brains need breaks occasionally to function properly.

What is the proper balance between thinking and doing? Between productivity and relaxation? What is the value of inefficiency?

Related questions: Why do people like games? How important is the repetition in our lives? How do you set priorities? Are we too busy?

How Are We Doing?

Intellectual Roundtable has been in operation for nearly a year and a half. In that time, we have posted nearly a hundred questions, on topics that range from introspective to worldly, from serious to silly. You can see a full list of all the questions ever posted at our Past Questions page.

During this time, we have had ups and downs. Some questions have received more interest than others. Some weeks and months have seen more activity, others less. The question we often ask ourselves is: why?

As the end of the summer approaches, as people are finishing up their vacations and preparing to go back to school or back to work, we thought we would ask for some feedback.

How are we doing?

Do some questions resonate with you? Do they make you think? When you are in a social situation, do you ever ask some of the questions of other people? Feel free to share any stories of conversations you may have had at a party or other gathering.

If you do not respond to questions, why not? What are the obstacles to sharing your opinion? Posting is completely anonymous, should you wish.

Should there be more frequent questions? Less frequent?

One of the goals that Michael and I have for the blog is to encourage interaction between commenters. Have you ever responded to someone else’s comment? Would you do that?

If you find you like a particular question, have you ever shared it on social media? What do you think would get you to share one with your friends? Sharing on social media is the way that a blog like this attracts new readers and grows an audience.

What do you think about the look of the website, or about the navigation in place? What about the appearance of questions on Facebook?

Finally, for those who aren’t interested in providing feedback, there is an alternate interpretation of the question. As a species, how are we doing? Is there hope in our growing understanding of the world, or does our shortsightedness doom us?

Related questions: How can you help? How have we changed?