One of my brothers-in-law has been visiting from Berlin during the holidays. His young adult children all live in the U.K., and it is enjoyable to hear what they are doing and how they navigate the world as they grow–having children of their own, pursuing academic degrees or careers in the arts–and finding parallels between their lives and their American cousins’ lives. My brother-in-law (Lee, a jazz musician, listen here on YouTube) told me he recently asked his older son what the most valuable skill for the next couple of decades was likely to be. The answer surprised him:
“The skill of learning what to ignore,” his son said.
When Lee pressed a bit further for clarification, his son explained that “information overload” and real-time social and other media, along with television and Google Glass and smart phones and whatever next gets developed, overwhelm the human brain to such an extent that people tend to lose the ability to sort or to prioritize. When we get distracted, we become less efficient; several recent studies suggest that there are costs to trying to do everything at once.
So, according to my nephew (who is studying neurology at Oxford), those of us who learn to shut out unnecessary information are likely to be more successful in a highly-communicative, highly-technological social landscape. The difficulty is knowing what kind of information is unimportant. Another difficulty is that our brains are wired to sense everything. In fact, our brains are already highly developed to screen out “useless” information. Managing an even more intentional focus will not necessarily be as automatic. It may be something we have to learn: i.e., a skill.
I think I need to re-develop my ability to ignore things. It seems likely that a lack of intentional focus and time away from technology would get me working on my poetry more than I have been. One way to regain this skill might be to recharge my mindfulness/meditation practice. The intentionality of the practice, and its conscious use of both awareness and screening or letting go, seems valuable enough over all that it would be well worth the time away from multitasking.
One possible “New Year’s Resolution,” then?
it’s said that
most of our perceptions
are misperceptions 🙂
“Ignore more,” yes, definitely — social media and being online has definitely had a negative impact on my attention span and ability to stay focused on my writing, be it for my blog or for business clients. In fact, today, while at the bookstore, I picked up a book of poetry by Mary Oliver. I don’t have as much patience to parse through poems as I’d like, and her subject matter is very near and dear to my heart, so in a way, easy reading. I have placed the book, “A Thousand Mornings,” on my night table with the thought that rather opening my kindle when I wake up to check email and Facebook, I’ll read a poem instead. Seems like a much healthier way to start my day — as is the mindfulness/meditation that you practice. So agreed, not only a “possible” New Year’s resolution for me, but a definite one.
Mary Oliver’s work is very centering, I find. A poem upon waking–that’s a good idea! Thanks!
I think this may be my mantra in the new year!
Excellent suggestion thanks
The skill of learning what to ignore sounds like a very sensible answer, but it’s not just to ignore, we have to know WHAT, which is the tricky part …
For my part I know I should try to spend a lot less time on the internet, even if it has had a great impact on my creativity I know there is a fine balance between useful information and complete overload!
Wish you all the best for the year to come (I very much hope blogging is among the things you decide not to ignore!)
Yes, that’s the difficult part. Our brains instinctively (?) choose what to ignore, which is why we cannot always recall every single detail of every moment in our lives–that would be too much to contend with! The skill we must learn in an information-rich culture is how to exercise our capacity to choose, to discern. And that choice will vary with each individual. So “ignore more” is of course simplistic…the more intriguing part of the motto is the way each one of us decides what to turn awareness toward, not just what we choose to turn our awareness away from.
As you say, mindfulness allows us to focus on what is and let the rest go or this lovely phrase, ignore more. I suspect that by focusing on the moment we are present to what is occurring without trying to load it up, so to speak. Really this enjoyed this post, Ann.
Well, Karen–I thought of you & your blog when I was rolling this over in my mind.
The trouble for us writer types, of course, is that we can always claim — with some justification — that surfing the web and clicking on interesting-looking links on Twitter and Facebook supplies us with material and insights essential to our poetry. But when I think back on how my habits have evolved, I do see a pattern of increasing addiction. As recently as five years ago, it was very unusual for me to go online before I’d spent at least an hour writing. Now I routinely check email and Twitter first thing and don’t get around to writing for hours.
Dave, my husband has developed a similar habit; I do think it interferes with his writing.
I am mulling over whether anything I’ve seen on Facebook or via interesting links has supplied me with insights that develop in my work. My first answer is no. But thinking again, I realize that my social media connections have provided me with many good books to read. And some of the bloggers I follow–such as you–certainly offer significant starting points for work of many kinds, such as I cannot acquire locally with much ease.
Get back on the porch first thing, and check your Twitter feed later! (Ha!)
Oh, I do still sit on the porch with my coffee before anything else. That will never change.
Regarding information, these days you have an over-exposure to so many choices and variety that they tend to distract you, from what you really should have been focusing on in the first place. This flooding of information, leaves you feeling highly disorganized.
So the reason why I think we want to just ignore information, is because it overwhelms us with so many choices. And that’s also the reason why we like to just throw everything away and stick to nature, and we’re not wrong in doing that too. That’s actually how we’re supposed to do everything; slow, steady and enjoying the journey as we travel through.
I’m currently co-writing on this topic at IO Resolve. As I conducted some research, I think information is overloading our minds today due to a few factors.
If you’re interested, you can read the first published part of it here:
Two of those factors, that really make information a mess, are:
– Repetition of the same information being published with variation. But all of them are based on the same basic gist.
– There’s no seeming structure to how information is exposed to us; Not taking things in a step-by-step way.
Hope you found this useful.
– Sherbaz from IO Resolve.
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