As you read this, you’re probably thinking about whether your classmate has written you back yet. You might have stopped halfway through that last sentence to check your e-mail. Maybe you checked your Facebook to see what time some event starts tonight. If I still have your attention right now, I have overcome the most difficult hurdle for a writer in the age of technology: Keeping someone’s attention when there are so many other things to do simultaneously at your fingertips.
Still with me? Good.
Last week, I was at dinner with four friends. Each one had their black, sleek iPhone sitting out. In the middle of dinner, one friend would respond to a buzz and proceed to text message under the table. He checked CNN. With time to spare, he checked the weather. This was all before the entrees arrived. Twitter was during dessert.
I felt left out with my Sony Ericsson sitting on the table beside me. In comparison, my phone has the capability to send text messages and take pictures. That’s about it. I was at a crossroads. Would I spring for a more versatile phone in order to fit in with my friends, or would I keep this limited, practically archaic phone?
The answer came when my mom asked me if I’d like a BlackBerry for my soon-approaching birthday. Almost without hesitation, I said no.
I’m afraid what such a multifaceted piece of technology will do to my already screen-oriented lifestyle as a college student. I’m addicted to Facebook, and I don’t want it to take over my life any more than it already has. I’m completely vulnerable to distractions whenever I sit down in front of my computer to do something, like say, write this blog. Do I want to finish this assignment, or do I want to watch The Office instantly on Netflix? Where I could have spent an hour editing a paper for class, a considerably short venture turns into a three-hour marathon where people can chat with me through at least four different mediums: Skype, Gmail, AOL or Facebook. Then comes 2 a.m. and that paper still isn’t finished. And still, chat windows are popping up from friends and acquaintances alike who want to engage in entirely insignificant conversations at such a late hour. So I know I can’t be the only one who allows distractions to get in the way.
When I leave my computer, that’s my only opportunity to be free of all the confines that technology brings. We are literally tied to a screen. Don’t get me started on the future of bookstores thanks to the Kindle. Call this all Emersonian, but I’m afraid that the advances of technology are making us so distracted that we can’t enjoy the moment anymore. I consider the compaction of different technologies to be more of a setback than progress. In some ways, it is completely helpful to have infinite knowledge only a click away. It’s great for when you’re lost and you need to look up a map, or for communicating with people you would have never kept in touch with otherwise. But when you can’t get through a dinner without everyone whipping out their phones … I see that as problematic. How important is it to know instantaneously whether someone has e-mailed you at the expense of giving the person in front of you your undivided attention?
I am personally taking small steps to help combat my own proneness to distractions. Ironically, one of the solutions has come via a new application for Macs.
This is what my screen looks as I write this:
This program, WriteRoom, blocks out everything else — every Internet page I have open, every chat window — to create an entirely black screen with, I admit, cryptic green writing. As long as it’s open, there is no Twitter or e-mail to distract me. Unlike the programs that try to do everything, WriteRoom is a completely minimalist writing tool. I can’t even distract myself by changing fonts.
I use this in class so that I don’t become one of those students who check Facebook and zone their teacher out. I use it at home when I’m writing an assignment so that my desire to procrastinate doesn’t trump the need to work. I’m sure the kids sitting in back of me in class think that some alien force has taken over my computer. Probably, but it’s worth it.
Now if only there was an application to block out every distraction when you’re at dinner with a friend.