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Driven To Distraction

The plane is doing its approach to the airport. There’s a small crosswind and the aircraft sideslips onto the runway with a bit of a jolt. The left-hand wheels are on the runway now and gravity soon ensures that the right wheels touch down soon after. There is a dramatic braking and we are thrust forward in our seats. But very soon the plane is taxiing along the runway to the terminal.

A voice comes over the intercom. “Although we are now on the ground we are still concerned for your safety. So please stay seated with your seat-belt on until the plane comes to a stop at the terminal and the captain turns off the seat-belt sign. Those of you who are within reach of your mobile phones may now turn them on.”

There is a great flurry of activity as passengers retrieve their mobiles, access their message banks or make calls. We have been flying for no more than an hour but in that hour we have lost contact with the outside world. Surely there must be urgent information for us to now access. There are calls we need to make that can’t wait another minute. Or we need immediately to examine our e-mails because we know there is one there somehow that is going to change our lives (or at least distract us from them). Our significance in this world has somehow been diminished by not being able to participate in this communication traffic.

I am staying at an inner city hotel. It is not the flashest in town, but it is comfortable, reasonably priced and convenient to where I need to go to work with my clients. I get in from the airport midafternoon and check in. I have a late afternoon appointment. When that’s done I come back and prepare to go down for an early dinner. When I enter the bistro I am assailed by the cacophony of several television sets on different stations competing for attention with the afternoon’s news, the sporting results and some abstruse reality TV show. Is it too much to ask that I should just have a little quiet time by myself?

In the morning I get up to the sound of my alarm. By the time I have dressed and made my way down to the bike track by the river for a gentle jog it is 5:30am. When I get to the track there are already quite a few walkers there. Surprisingly quite a few of them are walking and talking on their mobile phones. (Who do you talk to on your mobile at 5:30am?)

This all seems to me to be a dilemma. It would seem that somehow we can’t abide our own company. It seems we must find distractions and diversions so that we are not faced with the awful prospect of confronting ourselves. What hope have we of living meaningful lives if we can’t be reconciled with ourselves?

Spinoza, our best known philosopher of eternity, proclaims, “Only intense reflection, detaching itself from all life’s clutter and clatter, can discover the eternal.” It is only those who have forgotten where they came from that feel uncomfortable in the presence of themselves.

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  1. 5 Comment(s)

  2.   By John O'Brien on Sep 29, 2009 | Reply

    Ted – i want to know why you were’t on the early flight?????
    Maybe its both the benefit and problem of affluence that we have a choice.
    If our village was still tiling the soil – i would probably drop into your hut on the way back from the fields at sunset. i would offer you a few ears of corn for half an hour (not sure how we would measure it) with the “wise one” of the village. i had no choice but to spend my time talking to the buttocks of the bullock in front of me. i would have loved a radio at least let alone a mobile ph.
    Have we always had difficulty with ourselves – our challenge is making the most of the opportunity to be by ourselves?

  3.   By Diane Tinkler on Oct 1, 2009 | Reply

    Totally agree, Ted. I believe we all suffer from some degree of separation anxiety – but some more than others. I went out this morning without my Blackberry – and have lived to tell the tale!

  4.   By Ted Scott on Oct 1, 2009 | Reply

    Well, John the real paradox is that however we might wish otherwise sooner or later we have to face ourselves. Surprisingly, if you work at it, you will probably find someone interesting in that space your i-pod and you mobile phone are trying to obliterate.

    And see, Dianne has already started the revolution. Well done Dianne – more power to you!

  5.   By Greg Brown on Oct 6, 2009 | Reply

    Is it fear of being alone? We are a social animal more than any other. Solitary confinement has always been considered one of the worst tortures.

    Alternately is it a fear of what other people think? Defence of the ego. We have all heard stories about someone taking on a phone in a public place when it starts ringing in the middle of their imaginary conversation. This was mostly before SMS though. Now you just make like your are sending important text messages and you can do that any time of the day or night when you are feeling insecure and you believe people are watching.

    I do find it frustrating to interact with people that live in this distracted world. My children are grown now and I see them much less often. One thing I ask when I do see them is that they are present with me. I am tired of having them half talk to me and half read and send an SMS. Is this next generation going to bring this distraction into the work place of the future?

    Final comment is that all this distraction seems to cause stress on people. This is my own observation only, but to me it seems that our minds do not get a break with the continual bombardment of distraction be it TV, mobile phones, IPods or what ever. So many people seem to go to psychologists these days to learn how to relax. The treatment, go fishing, do some gardening, complete a jigsaw puzzle, take a long walk on your own…… and leave the phone off!!!

  6.   By Mark Brookes on Oct 7, 2009 | Reply

    To my own chagrin, I learned over the last two weeks that I had indeed forgotten how to relax. In the first week of my long awaited family holiday at the end of a very busy year, I discovered I literally could not sit still for two minutes – surely there was some urgent project requiring my immediate attention, some peril to be averted? Of course, the urgent project requiring my immediate attention was to relax and enjoy quality time, but it was surprisingly hard work to do nothing!

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