Christopher tm Herdt (cherdt) wrote,
Christopher tm Herdt

Stuck in the now, so you might as well get used to it

Sunday morning. I was too lazy to turn off the alarm, so I found myself again listening to Speaking of Faith. This week it was an interview with Eckhart Tolle. His spiritual philosophy basically seemed to boil down to this: we spend too much time thinking, either about the future or the past, and not enough time living now.

People spend too much time thinking? OK, so this Tolle guy needs to take another look at the relatively thoughtless world we share. But it did remind me a little of some of inhumandecency and kayshabeast's past posts about mindfulness and flow.

Of course, these are topics I know about only from friends' blog posts, but to oversimplify things it seems to me that flow, along with Tolle's now boil down to focus, or a lack of distraction. This led to two observations:

The web is an inherently distracting medium!
No wonder flow is so hard to achieve when you're sitting in front of a computer. Hyperlinks on every web page are tempting you to click them! Even without the hyperlinks, you may be tempted to look up an unfamiliar word like recherche on Merriam-Webster's site, or recall the weird Scientology exhibit that was down the block earlier and explore the Wikipedia entry on Psychiatry: An Industry of Death.

My first real experience with hypertext was my first attempt at reading Philip K. Dick's VALIS. 41 pages in, and I run across this: "Here time turns into space. Wagner began Parsifal in 1845." Sensing that this might be important, somehow, to understanding the book (it wasn't), I went to the UGLi and sat down and read the text of Wagner's Parsifal. It would be impossible to read VALIS this way, just as it would be impossible to follow up all of Eliot's obscure references in "The Wasteland": there are too many of them. It's too distracting!

No wonder people are developing applications like jDarkroom to prevent you from surfing the web, checking your e-mail, or playing Minesweeper. (At the same time, there are time-management applications that will periodically lock your computer and force you take a break from typing.)

I find writing on a computer, even in the absence of the Internet, full of distractions. It's much easier to compose a first draft in pen or on a typewriter, where the instinct to edit and revise is disabled. It probably wouldn't be difficult to implement a "Disable Delete Key" feature on a computer—possibly just re-map the key.

I think the easy distraction is a problem, but I think it is also interesting that there might be answers in technology, rather than willpower.

Challenge yourself.
One simple way to keep from being distracted is to give yourself a bit of a challenge. One of my professors said that you should read at a textbook at your fastest comfortable pace. If you read too slowly, your mind is likely to follow tangents. (Of course, following tangents is part of the joy of reading a book—but perhaps textbooks fall into another category.) I had a friend in high school, Stephen Schmidt, who decided that he would not judge himself based on his percentage scores on physics tests, but on his points-per-minute score. Not that speed is the only way to challenge yourself, but it's an easy example.

This seems to fit in with this handy figure:
Graph showing relationship between skills and challenge

Of course, when I think of flow I think of latch-hooking a giant Chairman Mao with flastron. That was more time-consuming than challenging, but it required enough attention to keep us focused. And we were drinking the cheapest possible Liebfraumilch on at least one occasion: I suppose a handicap is also a form of challenge.
Tags: eckhart tolle, flow, internet, npr, philip k dick, t.s. eliot, talking smack, valis
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