"So what isn't just my problem?", you might ask a little impatiently. That's what I'm talking about here in the blog, namely about the deterioration of the ability to concentrate and on the other hand, the growing impatience that is common to most of us.
Do you find yourself walking into a room and forgetting what you were going there for? Do you notice that you get lost in the internet when you really meant to finally respond to that friend whose message you forgot to reply to for over a week...There can be endless examples of things like that happening to many of us several times a day. We might come to realise that our ability to focus on the task or goal at hand is significantly impaired from what it was not so long ago - the change has occured over recent years. This is a cognitive ability, however, very essential in terms of directing one's own life – with a lack of concentration, we do not find solutions to the least challenging problems, nor do we create anything truly new and creative, neither in our work nor personal lives. These require the ability to focus on the matter at hand long enough for deeper thinking and the opportunity for insights to be born. Without the ability to concentrate, we are completely at the mercy of the attention economy - without the ability to navigate according to our own priorities and goals, we can become like monkeys in a eighties computer game, trance-likely snapping bananas from trees rolling in front of our eyes and consumers of needless hollow mind-numbing content.
Behind the weakening ability to concentrate is a complex chain of phenomena, in which equally essential a role is played by the intentionally addictive nature of the digital world, which has lead to our pleasure receptors to demand faster and faster rewards that digital content so freely offers. The nature of the rewards varies according to our unfulfilled needs - for one there is a reward of "instant" connection to another person as a remedy for the lack of social support, to another "instant" being seen, heard and validated in comment sections and through posts, the third is likes through "instant" self-worth confirmations, for the fourth "instant" feeling of control, which following constantly updated news offers, for the fifth, the reward is "instant" filling and a diversion from the feeling of emptiness in real life. The list goes on, yes. Commercial digital environments are created to keep our attention as long as possible, so that advertisers get value for their advertising money, and this is achieved by our keeping attention with clicks that lead deeper into its depths and capture our attention. The content and technology designers know that if our interest is lost even for a moment, we might wake up from hypnosis and stop browsing. What is most worrying is hot this grows the addictive nature of our minds overall – also to sources of pleasure such as food, shopping and sense of achievement aka busyness. Such an addicted mind has more difficulty in keeping up with those things that are boring and require patience and effort to complete, nor does it retrieve pleasure from the small everyday joys of life. It has been numbed.
It has been said that alcohol and caffeine are the only legal drugs in our society – now we could add to the list modern digital environment that is both legal and a drug. Until some legal regulating of this environment is obtained in place to protect us, nurturing and strengthening our ability to concentrate is completely up to us and our own responsibility. Some say it is also our super power in the future!