Sociology/distractions

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Hi, I was wondering if you had any comments on how the next generation of electronics and digital services have exponentially increased the number of unneeded distractions in our lives, and just as well, made the things we want almost TOO accessible, and in turn makes them less enjoyable. Here's some substance to base your response off of.

I'm a 23 year old married man and homeowner in West Norriton, Pennsylvania in the United States.

I work full time in a fast food franchise where I'm constantly moving, under pressure, and working under the time constraints of impatient, hungry consumers. It requires a good bit of physical and mental energy to perform and I don't get much down time to focus on other things. When I'm done I come home and unwind with the wifey by playing a video game or watching a movie or TV series on netflix, having dinner and then listening to the ipod while walking the dog before going to sleep. On my days off, I tend to browse haplessly on the internet for information, watch tv shows, play video games, etc. But often when I'm alone while the wifey's at work, I seem to have some issues.

Before I bought my own house, had a girlfriend and got married, I had a lot of time on my hands. I still had a job, but when I was done work, I'd come home to my mom and dad's house, and retreat to my bedroom. My favorite pastime during those years was a PC video game called Doom. In addition to being a violent fast-paced and fun game, one of the better features of the game is that since it's release in 1993, there has been a thriving community of players uploading user-made content for other players to download. Hundreds of thousands of original user-created levels available to anyone, extending the already great game into infinite hours of fun. Having slower internet connections at the time, downloading a new Doom episode; a ~20 megabyte sized file often took about a half hour or more, and I'd find things to do to keep me occupied while I wait in anticipation for the download to finish.

I acquired the hobby of being a level designer for the game, and when I'd come home from work, I'd bring home my pencil and paper sketches of level designs and create them in the level editor for myself and others to play in.

Here's a picture of some of my work:

http://img825.imageshack.us/img825/4180/doom20.png

This often took me 7 hours a day to complete an entire level, and I was very proud of myself for what I've done and the amount of gratitude I'd recieve from my peers. However, with high-speed internet access that is the norm for almost every household in the last decade, these file sizes are considered to be much smaller, and a set of 30 Doom levels in one package can take a few seconds to download, versus the hundreds of painstaking man hours of design, editing, and testing to create. For the creator, something like this is precious. For the user, this makes such files feel very 'disposable,' as the anticipation of waiting for a large file to finish downloading has vanished completely, and the feedback from the critics shows it.

Likewise, as I'm sitting at home, all of my TV shows are available on demand via streaming from netflix. There's no working around my schedule so that I can be available for the next episode of my favorite show, imagining what is going to happen next. My video games load instantaneously and timesink many hours that could have been put to use on something more productive, like maintaining and updating my home. Too often I stare blankly at the Google search window unsure of what to ask it. I'm overwhelmed by the media speeding past my eyes that I can't even focus on what I want to or could use it for. Smart phones make the internet available every single waking moment. Often when faced with too many options to pick from, I stagnate and pick nothing at all.

It guess it could suffice to say that these days I genuinely MISS being bored. Between everything that is immediately available to me, the only things that I get to do that give me a chance to think are using the restroom, taking a shower, and my ten-minute commute to work. Every other moment of my life is absorbed in some sort of entertainment or distraction, and it effects my ability to manage my time wisely and do something productive that I can be proud of.

I'd like to revert to simpler times but my wife has difficulty adjusting to turning our home into a time machine to the 90's again, and when I have company over, I can only imagine looking like a caveman and boring them to death in such conditions. So I cope with evolving technology and move forward accordingly, despite the stress of knowing how much more valuable some things could feel.

I've been wanting desperately to seclude myself and work on things like design Doom levels again, or paint, or write literature or redesign the interior of my home to help boost my self-esteem, but I need my 40-hours to pay my bills, the dog needs her walks, the wifey needs her attention, and rest of my time is seemingly sucked away from all the availability of distractions and things that there doesn't appear to be any escape from.

I haven't seemed to find much information addressing this and I was curious to know if you had any input as to whether this is a problem in society, or an internal conflict that I'm handling poorly.

Answer
Hi Jon,

Thank you for your question.

Technology has produced devices which demand more of our attention compared to that which confronted previous generations. But how that affects people is determined largely by individual differences. Some people love the connectivity provided by their devices, while others are hopelessly distracted or stressed by them. Most people fall in-between. There's a growing industry of "tech detox" retreats, where participants live for a period without any devices present. This suggests that your challenges are shared by others.

On my opinion, the influence of technology may not be impossible to avoid, but it is possible to manage. That is, for most people, the distractions can be minimized through decisions about when to use certain devices, and when to simply shut them off. If one decides that one's life is too saturated by technology, then firm choices should be made about what's expendable, or what usage can be reduced. Then executing those decisions is the next, and perhaps more difficult step. If you want to minimize the impact of technology in your life, then you should make perhaps difficult choices to do so. After all, billions of people on earth live without the technology that "plugged in" cultures do, so it's possible to live with less than what we now do.

In my opinion, technology cannot play a dominate role in someone's life, because personal relationships, intellectual and emotional development, should. While those can all be advanced by technology, they can also be hindered by it. But only individuals can decide which it is doing for them, and act appropriately.

I hope that this is helpful.

- Max (living about 45 minutes from you)

Sociology

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