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Murray Rosenbaum Headshot

How Hard Is It to Pay Attention?

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Everyone reading this can relate, ready? You're sitting at your desk, table, computer or wherever else you work, and you're in the middle of a big assignment that's due the next day. You're in the zone, and extremely focused, when your friends decide to remind that they exist. Suddenly a barrage of Facebook, Gmail, Snapchat and text messages appear, and no matter what you say or threaten, they show no signs of stopping. You wallow in self-pity for realizing that you are now completely of- track and will possibly have to wake up at 3 a.m. to finish the work that you started, because now you need to engage in the "important" conversation all of your friends need to have.

There is only one way to avoid this situation, which no one ever does because there's too much risk. The first is to all out shut down your phone and all forms of social media. This includes phone powered down entirely, not even glancing at Facebook for a second, and even avoiding Gmail because Google had the genius idea of making that social. The risk that exists in this situation is the fact that if, on the off-chance, something actually important happens, you will forever be blamed for not helping. Or if it's a situation about to turn bad your say could be the difference between this being a bigger situation later instead of killing it now. There's also if your family is trying to figure out a plan, having all sources of communication off is not useful.

Welcome to my own little torture that I can do little against. To me, friends aren't only one source of distraction that I have to be worried about. The Internet in its entirety constantly is trying to show me something that I know I'll love and find hilarious, but unfortunately will distract me. Sometimes I think I can hear Reddit calling my name to aimlessly browse its pages for hours, looking for funny pictures to distract my friends with. While the Internet and friends are plenty distracting, they are nothing compared to the greatest distraction of all: video games.

I find, particularly for me, video games are quite hard to resist. While talking to friends is fun, it's not quite like being able to explore great expanses of land in Skyrim, or save the princess in "Mario." Video games are on another level because of the fact that if you have good friends, they'll let you know that you should do work and stop talking to you. Video games on the other hand have no such conscience to even suggest focusing on work. The Wii's best try was the "You've been playing for a while, you should go outside" pop-up that no one reads. If you're not careful, and let video games claim you as a victim, hours will suddenly vanish before your eyes, leaving you with that paper due tomorrow and no research done.

There are plenty of downloadable programs to try to restrict websites, apps and other possible distractions on the computer, but they are extremely flawed. I have had experiences where I would accidentally lock myself out of everything "distracting" for 48 hours, leading into the weekend. After much practice, I have perfected the technique of not getting distracted. I like to call it the "just not responding unless it's urgent" technique. It is exactly what it describes: You hear everything going off, but never once participating unless it's news along the lines of "(blank) got (some horrible action done to them)." All of this aside, I think the issue is bigger than that.

I have found that because of all the technology and constant connectivity, people, myself included, have found it near impossible to even stay focused on the conversation topic. I have been in the middle of a sentence, and had friends start talking about a completely different event that happened. I believe that this is because we live in a world where me, all of my friends, and most people I know are used to doing at least three things at once. The real question is, if you're doing your homework, checking Facebook and watching TV at the same time, are you really absorbing anything that's going on? The real answer is no, and that took me longer than I would like to admit to realize.