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An Age of Distraction

Today, Millennials spend 93.5 hours per month inside an app. Years ago, I made a bold claim that “those who are unable to control their attention will have it bought and sold by those who can.” Facebook has become one of the biggest media companies on the planet, selling billions of dollars of advertising to its user base each quarter. My prediction was correct, but it is not limited to technology companies and apps. There are new investments in old-school technology to help combat this unique time in history where no one seems to have control of their attention. Germany is spending millions to install ground-level traffic lights to help reduce the number of distracted smartphone users walking head first into oncoming traffic. I kid you not.

I’m fascinated by the ability to focus in a private jet terminal versus the chaos in commercial air travel. I see the difference in private clubs and high-end restaurants, versus the constant distraction found inside more popular establishments. My friends and family and amazed that I always show up on time, prepared and focused during our time together – even though I do not own a smartphone – while they run late and can’t seem to make it through dinner without texting someone. Many are not invited back for the next dinner until required by my own necessity or Catholic guilt of being a good friend or relative.

I teach clients who can’t peel themselves away from their smartphones a one-word answer when they ask me how I survive without a cellphone. “It’s easy,” I tell them, “Focus.”

The first secret to improving your focus is to start reading more. And, I actually have a book recommendation at the end of this article that will help you become a better reader. On a personal note, my richest friends read a lot. I’m not exactly poor, so you can count me in this group as well. They have the time to do it because they are focused and have eliminated distractions.

A few thoughts on reading:

I often lament the fact that the average American watches 38 hours of television per week but only reads one book per year. Alan Jacobs, professor of the humanities at Baylor University, sets out to make an interesting case that reading is alive and well with large bookstores both online and off being supported by large numbers of book clubs and readers of all ages. Because most teachers have instilled in us that reading is good for us, many see the task like eating their vegetables. It’s something they know they should do but they worry about whether they are doing it correctly and often enough. For these worriers over whether they are reading enough or reading the right things the right way Jacobs has some simple advice: “read at whim, read whatever gives you delight, and do so without shame, whether it be Stephen King or the King James Version of the Bible.”

Overall Jacobs actually pulls off a book about reading books because of his extensive knowledge and well-researched themes. I only wish more students would be taught this approach at an earlier age. In a recent weekly fax, I harpooned young college students who are now having problems finishing entire textbooks assigned by their teachers and are apparently “unable to grasp complex philosophies and problems” in the reading because they have become so accustomed to near-constant distraction throughout their days.

How distracted are YOU throughout your day?

You can check out Jacobs’ book here: The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction.

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