Learning to be more present in the “distracted age.”

This year I am making an effort to be more present.

The most recent issue of my college’s alumnae magazine featured a writing professor and the seminar she teaches for incoming students, called “You are (Not) Here: Writing in the Distracted Age.”

The primary distraction of this age is, as you might imagine, constant access to information and social networking, mostly via handheld devices.

This professor certainly acknowledges the realities and usefulness of technology, but her course is intended to provide a space where it doesn’t dominate. She is serious about protecting that space, too: the article says that if a student checks her phone even once during class, she is marked as “absent” for the day!

In this college seminar, one assignment for students is to leave their phones in their dorm room and take a walk around campus for half an hour, simply enjoying the scenery.

My college regularly shows up on lists of beautiful campuses, and many alumnae name the natural beauty of the campus as one of the reasons they chose Wellesley. It made me rather sad to realize that current students might be walking daily through such a beautiful space without even noticing it.

While I can’t say that I skipped across campus every day without distraction during my time as a student – I know I was often thinking about homework or what was for lunch – I am grateful in hindsight that I was often able to enjoy the beauty around me, without social media or email demanding my attention.

But fast forward 20 years, and I am equally guilty of being “absent” by turning my attention away from the people and places around me.

According to the “screen time” feature on my iPhone, I spend an average of 2 hours 47 minutes per day using my phone. Most of that is spent texting, followed by social media. Probably the most disturbing stat for me is how many times I actually pick up my phone each day. My average number of pickups is 43, but one day last week it was 90!

Since reading this article, I have become more aware that almost every time I pick up my phone, my attention becomes directed there. Almost 50 times a day I turn away from whoever and whatever is in front of me to look at my screen.

I have a goal of decreasing my screen time in 2019, and to using that time mostly for things that are useful and meaningful (like FaceTime with my nieces, recipes, and calling Lyft) rather than obsessively checking social media.

And, on a larger level, I hope to personally live more fully into Braid’s guiding principle of presence and to be more fully available to those I love.

My phone isn’t the only distraction in my life, but as I leave it behind more and more I become grateful for how much there is to enjoy and experience when I am unplugged.

 

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