Distracting ourselves from what matters

distracting ourselves from what matters We spend too much time distracting ourselves from what matters. Distraction is fine, up to a point. But when we spend two trillion dollars annually on entertainment, I’d say we are well beyond that point.

As Seth Godin puts it:

Marvel spent $400,000,000 to make Avengers: Endgame. Because there was a business model in place that made it a reasonable investment choice.

What if we wanted to cure river blindness or address ineffective policing as much as we wanted to watch movies? The business model would shift and things would change–in a different direction.

I’m not sure there’s an intrinsic reason that watching a particular movie is more satisfying than solving an endemic problem. We’ve simply evolved our culture to be focused on the business of amusement instead of the journey toward better. [Emphasis added]
—Seth Godin, In search of amusement

Seth points out that our business models have shifted away from those that satisfy needs, towards those that satisfy wants. These growing businesses make money by selling distraction from work, work that is needed to make things better.

Pandemic distractions

As I write this, the COVID pandemic has been raging for a year. We’ve had even more reasons to distract ourselves from the additional turmoil the pandemic has brought to our lives. Online streaming consumption has soared (while live event attendance has plummeted). The rise of online makes it possible to choose exactly the kind of distraction we want with a click or finger tap.

It’s hard to believe that in a (hopefully) post-pandemic future, we’ll spontaneously give up our newfound distractions. Especially since businesses are hard at work creating more distraction opportunities and temptations, making it even easier to avoid what matters.

After all, that’s where the money is.

Or is it?

A different choice

Each of us can make a different choice.

It’s going to need to be a conscious choice, because businesses craft their distractions to be as addictive as possible. They will continue to do their best to make us want things that aren’t what we need.

There are so many unmet basic needs in this world. Here are some important ones:

  • Shelter
  • Food and water
  • Healthcare
  • Safety
  • Adequate income
  • Education

None of these needs are impossible to satisfy. The human race is capable of significantly improving access to all of them right now.

Working to meet these needs is a global effort. No one person can singlehandedly satisfy these needs. But each of us can do something.

You can make a difference

Individually, you can make a difference. Each of has unique talents and energy to devote to issues that matter.

We can choose to distract ourselves a little less, and use our freed up time to make the world a little better.

Because, for our world to become a better place, we can’t keep distracting ourselves from what matters.

You get to choose. Reduce weekly Netflix watching? Stop solving quite so many crossword puzzles? Don’t play Solitaire so often? (Those are some of my choices.)

Use your freed up time to make the world a little better. (I choose to help run non-profits that provide support for healthcare and education, and to support other non-profits that work on improving the world.)

Make a conscious choice that works for you. One that supports a “journey towards better” for the world we live in.



One unexpected reason why I like my new iPad

3G apple-ipad Every couple of weeks, in the free hour between my afternoon yoga class and evening men’s group, I head to the local library to work on my laptop.

Until yesterday.

Having just received a new 3G iPad, I left my heavy MacBook Pro behind and brought the iPad for its first test outside the office. I also brought Apple’s Keyboard Dock which combines a solid external keyboard with a convenient stand that holds the iPad upright. The combination was less than a quarter of the weight of my old laptop. Nice!

Here’s what surprised me while working at the library desk. The iPad, like the iPhone and iPod Touch, does one thing at a time. To switch apps you have to press the Home button, which suspends what you’re working on, and pick the next app. Writing an outline in Simplenote for an upcoming presentation and want to check your e-mail? Press Home, touch Mail, read mail, then press Home, touch Simplenote. Annoying, right? After all, any inexpensive netbook can run several programs at once and flip between them with a single mouse click.

Well, actually, I liked using the iPad better because I got more work done.

On the iPad, the app you’re currently using takes up the whole screen, so I wasn’t aware that more email or Tweets or stock price changes or new blog comments or <enter what distracts me here> had arrived. So I was able to concentrate on what I was working on. And the extra press/touch needed to switch apps acted as a small but significant disincentive to frequently multitask—so I stayed in my outline much longer than I would have done if I’d been using my laptop.

Yes, I admit it; I could use my laptop in exactly the same way if I was more disciplined. But, usually, I’m not. So this behavior of the iPad environment works for me in a situation when I want to stay focused on doing one thing.

I should be clear; the iPad isn’t going to be the optimum platform for all my work. When I’m moderating a chat, and need a Twitter client open plus multiple browser windows to research topics that surface, the iPad is not going to be my preferred computing platform (though dedicating it to one app during the session might well be useful). But my brief experiment confirmed that, for much of what I do away from the office, the iPad is a viable, and in one way superior, platform for getting things done.

Would using an iPad help you get things done better? Or would your life benefit more from the continuous availability of a multitasking computing environment?