I’m deeply concerned with my own brain at the moment, and that of my students, actually, let alone the whole of society’s. We are literally fraying at the minds edges in an overload of digital media and technology. As Herbert Simon says, “A wealth of information creates a poverty of attention”. 

“We are literally fraying at the minds edges in an overload of digital media and technology.”

Have you ever laid in the lounge, with the TV on in the background, your iPhone next to you, and a book/kindle on your lap… and then, as you’re reading the book, you read some particle of information and you think ‘oh I want to know more about that’, so you pick up your phone, start googling, then down a rabbit hole you go, where you might buy another book to read later on the topic.

Mid-way through the purchase, something comes on television that catches your eye, and then you let your phone sit dormant, the shopping cart closes down, and you have to start again? All the while your tea goes cold on the floor as you forgot you even made it. Been there? Or something very similar? I have. Sometimes it takes all my determination just to put down all my bloody devices and either lay there with some ideas, or just read.

digital devices

We now have attention spans shorter than goldfish. Yes, for real.

– TLDR is a term for ‘too long, don’t read’, and is heavily employed by brands when haranguing their publicists and social media agencies for posting comments that are too long. It’s also a term used within companies when someone uses too much detail in their correspondence.

– ‘Cyberslacking’ is a term for workers that are messing around on the internet instead of actually doing, you know, work. The average person is now spending more time online, than sleeping.

77% of people aged 18 to 34 claimed they will reach for their phone if they have nothing to occupy their attention.

Children spend on average 6.5 hours a day on screens.

Part of the problem is that technology is seriously addictive, partly thanks to our shortened attention spans (induced mostly by technology in the first place). The real challenge though, is that we’re never really present, and certainly not to what is going on around us. We’re in a haze of voyeurism and information grabs.

“We’re in a haze of voyeurism and information grabs.”

laptop in bed



– Do one thing at a time. 

Also known as being present in each moment, it’s time to start doing one thing at a time. Zen Buddhist monks do this in the monasteries with skill. When walking, it is just the idea of walking that is repeated in the mind – not checking emails whilst walking the dog and talking to your sister on the phone. If they’re raking or sweeping, then they’re just raking or sweeping. Not sweeping with phone wedged in shoulder, and frantically signalling to partner to get the dustpan.

The same for bathing – rather than checking Facebook while bathing kids, with earphones in so you can hands-free talk to friend, whilst motioning ‘use soap’ with a stern look on your face. When we divide our attention, nothing is absorbed. Every moment fractured. Try doing one thing well, and then move onto the next. As my colleague Jeff Kober says, “Life is meant to be enjoyed. It only can be enjoyed in the here-and-now. To let go of suffering is to make ourselves available to the possibility of joy, here and now. In this moment.”

taking photographs

– Capture then share later. 

We all love sharing moments now, or looking at others moments. I’ll be the first to admit it. Sometimes I’m in the middle of some beautiful moment, and I think ‘oh, quick, get a pic, this will make for a beautiful story later’.

Now it’s one thing to document, and another entirely to not even participate in a moment as you’re stuck to a screen. What I do is take the photograph and document it a little later. Meaning, I actually eat my food while it’s hot (insert gasp here). It is frequently argued that we could simply also stop taking photos of our food… that’s not happening anytime soon for me!

“We try as best we can to Power Down an hour on waking and an hour before we go to bed. That’s no devices, no screens, for an hour.”

– Have some tech-free time.

We try as best we can to Power Down an hour on waking and an hour before we go to bed. That’s no devices, no screens, for an hour. It’s absolute heaven. And it takes serious discipline. But the results are well worth it. I’ve written a whole chapter on this in my book the 7 Day Mind Cleanse which you can read more about here.

“Thirty years ago, my older brother, who was ten-years-old at the time, was trying to get a report written on birds that he’d had three months to write, which was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books about birds, immobilised by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother’s shoulder, and said, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.” – Anne Lamott

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