Karl Marx’ famous quote is essentially that religion was a dulling distraction to prevent people who lived in a cruel world from rising up in revolt and taking control of their lives. But in today’s age, even if that were true then, there is another that is true today. There is a new opiate that insidiously enslaves people to a lesser life. What is the 21st century opiate of the masses? Distraction. Texting, email, Facebook, TV, radio, Instagram, and all other twitter-like instant messages that say “HEY, HEY!!!!! Look at me. I’m more important than whatever else you are doing.” The pull is addictive.
THE major obstacle that must be overcome in order to creating a life of wealth and well-being, substance and satisfaction, love and enjoyment is a lack of focus and intent. This generation of twenty-somethings has grown up with electronic interruptions as a part of their life. It’s not new to them. It’s a part of them. We don’t know to what effect just yet, but the early indications aren’t encouraging. Though anecdotal, my observation is that relationships are the first casualty in this new era. There are numerous and complex reasons why marriage is being delayed in today’s emerging generation. I propose that micro-selfishness is doled out like opium with each text or email and creates an addictive need to be entertained.
Entertainment, a passive enjoyment, is not investment. Relationships require investment and when things stop being entertaining, it’s time to move on. Distractions prevent focus. Added up over a short lifetime, these distractions promote a shallowness that doesn’t allow for the creation of an interesting person. How many times, for example, have you observed families in restaurants looking at their e-gadgets instead of engaging in family conversation? Doesn’t that evoke a sadness in you? It does for me because they may not ever come to know the overwhelming satisfaction that springs from family interaction.
Secondly, the skill of being present, focusing one’s mind on one thing, appears to be underdeveloped in society. My kids used to say “But we’re developing the ability to multi-task.” Uh, no. You’re practicing switching quickly from one thought to another versus the much harder task of focusing on one thing. Can you listen to music while studying? Sure. What kind of music, headbanging? Can you respond to an email while talking with another friend? Sure. But what kind of friend and what kind of conversation? Of course the answer is you can do all those things. But there is a cost that isn’t always obvious.
The cost of choosing one course of action is not choosing another. It’s called opportunity cost. Therefore, constantly being tied to the net and available to your sphere 24/7 is costing you depth and focus, privacy and independence, substance and purpose. How do you know whether you’ve paid those costs? The sad part is you don’t. You simply don’t notice. How do you know if you’re shallow? You may say, “Well, that may be true for some, but not me.” Ok, fair enough. But how do you know you’re not eroding your ability to be substantive? You may lack the focus to see for yourself and make a sound judgment.
In your Ironmen group, take your phones and put them on the table. First one to check email or take a call buys beers on Friday. Or, on Sunday, turn your phone off all day. No emails or calls unless you initiate them. Or, read for two hours straight without checking anything electronic. Practice focus. Decide to engage fully in the moment without hedging that something else might be more important.
To your increasingly substantive character,