We are a culture of “ephemeral enthusiasm”, wrote David Brooks in his recent column for The New York Times. In an era where there is no dearth of information and amusements, we constantly find ourselves wanting more of what we have today and the same which we desired to have yesterday – No more does my latest iPhone or my whacky hairstyle is good (read as ‘kool’) enough. This insatiable desire to change for the sake of change, or out of boredom or even compulsion, has only made it difficult for us to focus on the activity or even with the people right before us. Software available from the times of Windows OS has paved a way for us to effectively multi-task. However, what we don’t realize is this constant buzz of our gadgets and the cacophony of our human mind has robbed us of our true productivity.
Yes, it is not easy to focus on one thing, when too many good (read as ‘awesome’) things are happening all around us; especially, when the incentive to focus is not there sometimes. Technologies keep updating, landscapes keep changing, good (read as ‘virtual’) friends keep adding, so on and so forth. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Screwtape Letters, states, “The horror of the same old thing is one of the gross passions of the human heart—an endless source of heresies in religion, folly in counsel, infidelity in marriage, and inconstancy in friendship (sic)”.
This obsession to focus on multiple activities at the same time has robbed us of our inner-satisfaction in completing any work with quality
So, what should be the ideal approach for a professional? Is it wrong for us to lay hands on as many technologies as possible at one go or should we devote our complete energy to learn and contribute to the current task at hand?
The answer, I believe, lies in our ability to balance our innate desire to change for the good and the intent to focus on the things that are now and important. Brain studies have proved that if we are unable to pay attention to a stimulus for a certain time, it becomes highly impossible to remember that stimulus later. In fact, researchers like Paul Johnson, argue that our post-internet era brains have changed dynamically. He describes this new phenomenon as “brain plasticity”, where some areas of our brain expand or shrink based on how we use that area. Those who relied on the Internet (read as ‘Googling’) quite heavily activated their “reasoning and decision making” areas of their brain and while those who used Internet less often activated their “memory” related areas of their brain.
Nevertheless, the main reason for our inability to focus is to do with our ability (read as ‘pride’) to multi-task. We feel inadequate or hopeless if we have or do anything less than our neighbor. And what is fascinating is that we even judge people’s worth based on how busy they look. However, we don’t realize this obsession to focus on multiple activities at the same time has robbed us of our inner-satisfaction in completing any work with quality. In fact, research conducted at Stanford University observed multitasking to be less productive and that which undermines the performance and even the brain of the multi-tasker. Interestingly, another study done by the University of London found the IQ levels of the multi-taskers drop down drastically while doing cognitive tasks, much like a person who smoked pot or stayed up all night!
In summary, while it is great to be engaged (read as ‘busy’) all the time, the urge to get interrupted either through a phone, a like symbol or an email only diminishes pleasure while increasing desire. “The pleasure of novelty is by its very nature more subject than any other to the law of diminishing returns”, says C.S. Lewis. So, while it is imperative and vital to learn many technologies, make new friends and experience different things in this world, real fulfillment happens when we can focus one at a time, see them through the eye and not just with the eye.
(The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the view of the company.)