We’re living in strange times.
While advancements in technology and consumer goods production are supposed to make people’s lives easier, society may not be prepared for its inherent consequences.
Computers are supposed to make tasks faster to accomplish. But because of the extra time created, instead of finding time to rest, more tasks are then added to one’s workload.
Cellular phones are supposed to make communications easier. But because we can now reach anyone anytime anywhere, privacy and deep relationships are unintentionally disturbed.
These things are supposed to make our lives easier, our tasks faster, so that we can have more time to do what we really love with people we really love.
Instead, they became status symbols we need to have to look great and successful. They became prizes we need to win to find happiness.
Do you eat on the run? Use a cell phone while driving? Text during family dinners or read e-mails in meetings? Did your spouse learn about your job promotion from Facebook?
Welcome to the Era of Distraction.
In fact, as I’m writing this, I’m tempted to check my blog stats, Facebook and Twitter feeds, and some basketball videos at YouTube.
It’s ironic that in the middle of all these progress in communication and information dissemination, we are at the same time slowly becoming a society of division, detachment, and diffusion.
We’re able to interact with thousands of people around the world with a device in the palm of our hands, yet we’re having a hard time listening to the person right in front of us.
Look around you, everything everywhere is constantly fighting for your attention. There always seemed to be something beeping, something notifying, compelling us to do something.
It’s an exhausting rhythm of perpetual input. It follows us into our homes, into our beds, into our minds, and into our souls.
This leaves us with trivial time for rest, self-reflection, personal spiritual growth, and deep connection with others.
It’s not only about information overload. In the actual living of life itself, there are so many distractions.
- Our physical health is impaired because of the distraction of unhealthy food and lifestyle.
- Our significant relationships are damaged because of the distraction of dishonesty and wrong perspective of material wealth.
- Our pursuit of life passion and purpose are not achieved because of the distraction of conformity to the majority.
- Our personal spiritual growth is delayed because of the distraction of chasing self-seeking pleasures and lack of discipline.
- Our generous contribution to the lives of people around us is absent because of the distraction of selfishness and indifference.
Though history tells us that mankind underwent different kinds of distractions, never before are they so many, so consuming, so overpowering – so distracting – as they are now.
Problem or progress
Look around you. These days, almost every one you know owns a cellular phone. Most have smart phones.
It has become a symbol of life. If you didn’t have a cell phone you must be dead, you are not connected.
But does it really connect us? True to people who have loved ones who are far away, but it does disconnect from the people who are with us right in the moment.
That’s odd and scary.
In restaurants or fast food joints, I’ve seen many times how families spend more time with their smart phones than with each other.
I remember eating breakfast while in work training in Cebu. I noticed every single person in the café fidgeting with their cell phones, some alone, some aren’t, and thought, what has happened to society? We’re all like zombies trapped in our own virtual world. Right then I decided to consciously leave my cell phone in my pocket even while it is vibrating.
I see people texting while crossing the street, dining out, talking to their teachers, and reprimanding their kids.
Even in our family, sometimes before bedtime my wife and I find each other spending more time with our electronic gadgets while our kids try to catch our attention for a cuddle!
Technology is good if we use it correctly. But if we fall into its awesome distractive nature… we may miss the beauty of life that is happening right before us.
Admit it or not, our obsession with consuming has become unhealthy.
When we are depressed, when we have problems, when we are inconvenient, when we want to express our affection and love, it’s as if there is only one solution: buy things.
And these “things” are becoming more and more expensive and wasteful and distracting.
This intense consumerism leads to owning a lot of stuff – stuff which we don’t need, don’t use, and don’t like. It results to having a lot of clutter in the house, and yet doesn’t give our lives any meaning.
In fact, it leads to deeper debt and needing bigger houses to contain all this meaningless stuff.
It also becomes a cause of unnecessary stress, as it will take your precious money, time, emotion, attention, and effort to take care all of this stuff.
The recent massive flooding here in Olongapo City is a testament to that. Visiting houses of families ravaged by the flood, I was reminded by how too much stuff is not a luxury – it’s actually a burden, a liability.
I don’t want to offend anyone, and I’m saying this with absolute care and humility… but if only they hadn’t had that much stuff then they would have had an easier time evacuating their homes and focusing on making sure their families are safe.
I remember seeing a George Carlin video about stuff. He said, “And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn't want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you're saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That's what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get...more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.”
It’s heartbreakingly funny how people invest too much of their life on acquiring stuff – forsaking friends and family for what? To get more stuff!
Our attitude towards stuff also became unhealthy. We simply overvalue it. Today, “shopping” has become a leisure activity. When you’re down, go shopping. When you’re bored, go shopping. When you’re heartbroken, go shopping. Shopping is therapy for some.
When we don’t have a new watch or pair of shoes during the Christmas season, we readily equate that to being poor.
When we see a “sale” sign on the mall, or even only hearing about it, we feel an urgency to go to it and buy something, anything.
The word “free” makes us tremble in anticipation. We feel loved when friends would leave behind something when they move or migrate. We get excited when someone offers a garage sale and we buy something, anything for a tenth of its retail price even if we don’t need it.
The truth is this free or nearly free stuff aren’t bargains. Any stuff is worthless if we don’t need it. Unless we have a plan of re-selling that cheap or free stuff then no value can be derived from it.
In fact, acquiring stuff we don’t need is worse than worthless. Because once you’ve accumulated stuff that you don’t need, it starts to own you rather than you own it.
I know someone who is having respiratory problems and literally can’t breathe on his own home because there’s so much stuff lying around and so much dust is collected. He couldn’t clean the house as well because his stuff is in the way. Much of its square footage contains stuff.
He’s depressed with all the health problems and all the clutter around the house. He didn’t want anyone to visit him because he’s embarrassed of his own living room, and there’s less room for people in his living room full of stuff anyway.
And when he couldn’t take it anymore, he rents a hotel room for the night to de-stress. I feel sad for someone who can’t find relaxation and stress relief in his own home. His house isn’t his; it’s his stuff’s.
Yet he still wouldn’t want to part with his stuff even when he doesn’t use them and is a problem to his health and overall well-being. His reason? He might need them someday “just in case.”
I first realized the worthlessness of stuff when I experimented with Courtney Carver’s Project 333. The challenge is to wear only 33 articles of clothing in 3 months.
I only had a 31-item wardrobe and gave away or discarded the rest of my clothes from January to April 2013.
And you know what? I didn’t miss anything! All I had are 33 clothes that looked good on me, complement each other well, and all are my favorites. I didn’t go beyond 33 ever since. We’ll talk more on that later.
Consider some of these disadvantages in having too much stuff:
1. Makes us anxious. When you have a 40 inch plasma TV, a blue ray player, an Xbox, a giant ref, five desktops, and ancient china figurine collection at home, wouldn’t you be worried someone might steal them? If you have less, you don’t have to worry about theft, fires or floods because you can easily replace your stuff.
2. Stresses us. The time and effort to dust, clean, store, organize, and maintain stuff takes a toll on us – body, soul, and spirit.
3. Drains our finances. And, oh, have I mentioned the time and effort to dust, clean, store, organize, and maintain stuff takes a toll on our wallets, too?
These are only three, and there are many more! But do you need more?
Evolution of media
Media has also evolved. Consumers were given empowerment like never before. With the internet, it’s easier than ever for anyone, anywhere, to share content to the world. Advertising became more potent and, well, distractive.
With advertising at its most powerful form, nobody can escape it.
Turn on the TV, flip open a magazine, look at the internet, even on most blogs, there goes advertising and it’s message of buy, buy, and buy… to make us happier… drilled into our heads from waking to sleeping.
Television has become so powerful that many people’s lifestyle is now based on it.
It has become so ingrained in our way of life that many households leave their TV on even when no one is watching because they feel more secure when there’s background noise.