RIP to my attention span.
The world seems to be opening back up now that we are no longer surging (or are just between surges?), but I wouldn’t say that I feel normal again.
Lack of focus has been one of the most pronounced negative effects. For example, I sat down with a cup of coffee and opened up a text editor to write this note about an hour ago and have since abandoned the window no fewer than seven times (see Appendix).
I am mostly unable to watch a full feature-length film without getting distracted or antsy (or falling asleep) halfway through. (Weirdly, I can watch an entire season of a show in one sitting, so riddle me that.) Reading books is possible, but it’s harder to read nonfiction these days, which I used to read exclusively. I can read a novel for about fifteen minutes at a time.
I know it’s probably just my prefrontal cortex taking a break in the presence of constant low-grade stress and anxiety that occasionally peaks to acute stress and anxiety, but just because my brain happens to know what it’s doing doesn’t mean I can trick it from not doing the thing. Brains are tricky that way.
I am immeasurably lucky that I am (and my loved ones are) mostly otherwise unscathed. People have died, acquired significant disabilities, lost out on so much (and so many people have lived with the kind of day-to-day stress and uncertainty that was previously unimaginable to me, for years or even generations); there is geopolitical fallout and massive economic instability; we don’t even know the full extent of the pandemic’s blast radius of second- and third-order effects—and my biggest complaint today is that I get distracted a lot.
The addictive nature of certain smartphone apps has not helped. The inventor of the infinite scroll has major regrets. (The inventor of the labradoodle seems to have similar regrets, but that is another story, although it does help prove my point since I just got distracted again looking at labradoodles on the internet.)
What has helped has been recognizing when I’m doomscrolling and acknowledging it (even if I don’t stop right away), walks in the park, talking to people face to face and not over video chat, cooking at home and other physical hobbies, reading print magazines, doing jigsaw puzzles, and essentially distracting myself from my own distractions with what I perceive are healthier distractions. Work has also been a great distraction, and I know I’m a weirdo for liking my job so much, but I’m also trying to maintain good work-life balance, which is healthy even if you do like your job.
Also, more tactically, springing for 16 GB memory on my personal computer was kind of a game changer and well worth it (the base model has 8 GB), because the reduced latency means I’m less likely to pick up my phone or degrade focus while waiting for something to load (in other words, I can only blame myself, not my computer).
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to close my laptop and go outside.
Things I was distracted by while writing this note:
- Choosing which water receptacle to drink from (do I use the heavy 32 oz double-walled water bottle so I have to get up fewer times, or the more manageable but lower volume glass cup?)
- Admiring my water bottle collection
- This Google search for “labradoodle inventor regret”
- Some “movement” after finishing my coffee (ahem)
- The sudden and blinding need to arrange all the shoes on the shoe rack
- Frying an egg