We live in an attention-grabbing world. A world where people make money off how much of your attention they can attract.
It is a world quite different from how it was only a couple of decades ago.
What it used to be like
I know I developed talents and knowledge when I was younger that I am certain if I grew up in today’s world I would not have.
I have spent hours reading about history for example. Nowadays I get curious about something and google it, go look it up online and I’ve got my answer. Back in the day I checked out multiple books a week from the library and because Netflix didn’t exist I spent hours reading them.
Now, I google it. Look briefly at the answer. Then I go back to work, or YouTube or Netflix or Google something else completely unrelated. And sometimes forget what I learned within minutes. Or even if I don’t forget it I have just a surface level of knowledge about it.
I think back to pre-internet world. When I was a teenager, the movie Braveheart came out. I remember being so fascinated when I learned that it was based on a real-life person.
I was so intrigued by the movie and the characters I heard about for the first time that I went to the library. I pulled out books about Scotland, William Wallace, Edward the Long Shanks, Robert the Bruce etc. I read in depth about the people and the time period. Then I kept going. I became fascinated with Scottish and English history and kept reading books. I learned about various periods, Henry the VIII and Thomas Becket and the Protestant Catholic schism fascinated me. As did Richard the LionHeart and the Crusades. From there I branched out and started reading about Saladin… and on it went. Always, through books. After all, I couldn’t just google anything I became curious about. I had to go to the library.
After all I had the time. Sure, there was school and homework. But there wasn’t Google, Facebook, Twitter, Netflix and all the never-ending ceaseless entertainment we have now at our fingertips.
Also, as there wasn’t Google, I could not just google some surface level facts and satisfy my curiosity. The tools of knowledge back then by their nature just went deeper about any subject you were looking into.
So, what good does having a bunch of random knowledge about the U.K during the middle ages have. Well perhaps nothing. After all, I am not a historian, librarian, professor or doing anything else with my life where I can earn money with that knowledge. Although, I do think having a knowledge of History and the ability to put things into context is a good life skill. But this article isn’t really about that.
But one talent that I think have, that I noticed frequently my younger colleagues don’t always have is the ability to sit down and bang out a long paper or memo on whatever topic is needed.
I am definitely not Hunter S. Thompson or anything even close.
But I think can take what I am thinking, summarize what I have researched, and put it into cohesive writing that gets what is needed to be conveyed across to a reader. I think… actually I know that’s a by-product from all the time I spent with those books as, well as time I spent with books on many other subjects.
I cannot imagine that I would have anywhere near the same level of skill as I do if I was born twenty years later. Don’t get me wrong, there are people that are far better writers than I that were born twenty years later. I just know I personally would not have had the discipline, natural talent and whatever combination thereof would have been needed to become a decent writer today.
We don’t spend the time today to go deep
Nowadays I don’t spend a bunch of hours doing anything quite so in depth as I used to. Even at work, where I spend hours every day. And where you would think most of us need to focus on something for a period of time I don’t. I spend most of that time moving quickly from one task to another and not spending any significant amount of time getting good, or developing in-depth knowledge about any one thing.
I have begun trying to unplug and disconnect. Not all at once, and only in small chunks of time. After all I don’t want to go into detox from unplugging from my iPhone to quickly. People die from that right?
Or, I might be confusing iPhone addiction with drug or alcohol addiction there.
Small things to do to unplug
1) To start what I am doing right now is sitting with my laptop, not connected to the internet just putting my thoughts down. Hence, what you are reading right now.
2) When I go on a run, walk or workout I used to constantly listen to music, then I moved to podcasts. I have started running, taking walks and going to the gym without earbuds. Just me and my thoughts. It was actually hard to do at first. Which made me realize how much I needed to start doing it.
As a nice side effect I usually come up with an idea or two to write about during my runs. Something that never happened before when I was streaming podcasts.
3) I take at least a hour out of the evening to read. Something I had got away from before. Frequently, it turns into an hour or more.
I am trying to work up to be able to not take my phone into the bathroom with me. Not yet, but hopefully, one day I’ll get there.
No need to completely unplug
It seems a big hurdle, to try to break that iPhone, Netflix, YouTube addiction you may have. But it doesn’t need to be so. You can start small with things like the above.
After doing the above for just a few weeks it has started to build on itself. I have been going through books pretty quickly again for the first time in years and overall, just feel better.
I deleted a bunch of apps on my phone. I only put one new one on. Anki, which is just a basic flashcard app that I’ve re-started learning Spanish with. And have been successfully spending at least 10 minutes or so each day with.
And really all of this from just changing my behavior for maybe an hour or two a day. I didn’t lock my phone away like the Silicon Valley execs do with their kids iPhones, go on a weeklong silent retreat with Jack Dorsey or really do anything drastic.
I live in a different place today than I did when I was a kid. But all of this did lead me to do one crazy thing. I actually looked up online and figured out where the local library was and went and checked out a couple of books last week.
In case you are curious, as I was, libraries do still exist.