I’m sitting in a lecture, typing onto my phone.
Around me, many people are checking their phones and not paying much attention to the talk.
This makes me ask — why are we here?
We should value our time highly. We only have so long to learn things that will improve our life. There are some things that we must learn for our career or job — if we don’t learn these now, we will have to learn them later and this will require sacrificing something else. Therefore, not using our time effectively now is a false economy.
Most talks are not high yield, so I can understand why people may wish to zone out. However, attending and then zoning out shows a fundamental disrespect for the value of your own time.
Thinking rationally, therefore, we have two options:
1. Don’t go to the talk
The decision when NOT to do something is arguably the most important decision. In the information age, there is limitless amounts of information available. We must be selective.
I have written before about how I read 50–100 books a year. Even after 80 years of life, I will have only read a tiny fraction of the number of books that exist — millions of new books are published every year.
I appreciate that not attending semi-mandatory talks goes contrary to the expectations of society. However, we shouldn’t let the implicit rules of society influence us too greatly, particularly when they are not rational, as rules should never be followed blindly.
2. Don’t zone out
The ability to maintain focus, even when bored, is important for two reasons; developing the ability to focus and the experiential benefits of presence.
The default pattern of most is to be ‘switched off’ most of the time and then ‘switch on’ when it is required. A common pattern is to push ourselves at work due to the demands of the job and external pressures, then collapse back into unproductivity in our free time, whether that’s long periods of watching TV, browsing the internet or any other activity requiring little focus.
In his book Deep Work, Cal Newport argues that we should be taking breaks fromfocus rather than breaks from distraction. Our default should be periods of sustained focus, then short breaks away from this.
Some may argue that this is difficult to do but it is an ability that can be trained over time with discipline and yields large rewards.
The second reason is the benefits of being present where you are. This is an increasingly popular idea in the West with the flourishing of ‘mindfulness’. One element is avoiding ‘psychological transporting’, where our mind leaves the room and we think about other things.
Yuval Harari in an interview said “a huge range of human experience exists on the other side of boredom”. He is referring to experiences that people who continually look for something to ease their boredom will never realise.
In summary, we must respect our time through conscious decision making. We should decide what to attend and what not to. We should not let distractions, such as modern technology, steal our attention and disrupt our focus.