Continuous Partial Attention1
When we unplug--intentionally going offline, going silent, stopping driving, turning off the TV, being still--and just listening, we get this weird feeling that nothing is happening.
And that we’re missing something. Something really important.
On Sunday, I mentioned some research by Linda Stone about our modern addiction to constant multitasking, to living lives of what she calls "continuous partial attention." Here’s some of what she’s discovered:
“Like so many things, in small doses, continuous partial attention can be a very functional behavior. However, in large doses, it contributes to a stressful lifestyle, to operating in crisis management mode, and to a compromised ability to reflect, to make decisions, and to think creatively. In a 24/7, always-on world, continuous partial attention used as our dominant attention mode contributes to a feeling of overwhelm, over-stimulation and to a sense of being unfulfilled. We are so accessible, we’re inaccessible. The latest, greatest powerful technologies have contributed to our feeling increasingly powerless.”
It’s when we unplug and pause that we have the joyful opportunity to reflect, to think creativity, and to begin to hear the gentle God whose only Son “shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any person hear His voice above street noise.” Matthew 12.19.
“Yeah,” we say, “it would be easy in the old days to take time to ponder, to be still, to listen. People back then had lots of time on their hands.”
Most of our ancestors, including those in the Old Testament days, farmed the land or tended flocks. They worked 12 hour days. No Fresh and Easy or Vons to pick up veggies and milk. Washing machines? Yeah, over rocks. And water? You carried it with buckets. If you wanted to eat, you prepared the soil, planted, watered, harvested, cleaned, cooked with the firewood you chopped. Diapers? That’s too much to think about.
Probably no society (except for the ultra rich) in all of history has had as much discretionary time as ours.
The person who works 40 hours a week still has some 5-6 discretionary hours every day, maybe 50 hours per week counting weekends. Nobody makes us sign our kids up for sports or dance, or turn on our TV’s or tend gardens or be online, or the dozens of other choices we make with the time beyond work we each have every week.
In every society, at every time, people have to make choices, say "no" to certain things to slow down, to pause, to listen.
It’s good for the soul. It’s good for our families and friends. It’s good for our church. It’s good for those outside the church.
God reminds us who suffer from continuous partial attention syndrome, that “in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30.15
How do you find spaces in your life to be still? To be disconnected, even with kids to drive about, jobs that demand, details that must be taken care of? Share with us how you are discovering living in our real world, and yet taking pauses out of it to be refresh, replenished, renewed by our great God.