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Saturday, February 20, 2010

One man's experience dealing with distractions

By Dick Hirsch

I never thought too much about distractions, if you know what I mean. In case you don’t, let me explain: I realized there were distractions here and there in various places and situations, and I knew I was distracted from time to time. But I wasn’t concerned because I felt confident I could ignore the occasional distraction and pursue my own agenda.

I also believed that as I matured two things would happen: the number of distractions would be diminished over time while my ability to overcome any lingering distractions would be increased. So far I seem to be wrong on both counts.

The number of distractions has been increasing at a dizzying pace and there has been no improvement in the human ability to resist them. I have asked around and, when interrogated in an understanding manner, people have admitted to being distracted on a regular basis in various settings.

When I was in grade school I often did my homework while listening to the radio, much to the chagrin of my parents. They were certain I would be an honor student if only I would turn off the radio and work in silence.

“You can’t do homework and listen to the radio at the same time,” my mother would regularly declare. “It’s very distracting.”

Under duress I would turn off the radio but only for a short while. I found silence to be oppressive and distracting and I soon grew fidgety, was unable to concentrate and could not do my homework. On went the radio, softly.

That was a distraction over which I had control. During my high school and college years there were many distractions, literally hundreds, which I could not ignore, but with which I learned to co-exist. I eventually prevailed and graduated. I won’t even attempt to list them here because the list is lengthy and the memory grows dim. But if you will recall your own experiences you’ll probably be able to enumerate some of the same ones that had an impact upon me. They ranged from the natural, like leaves seen out the classroom window quivering gently in the spring breeze, to the personal, such as an attractive silhouette noticed across the reading room at the library.

I’m still very proud of one distraction I overcame and I feel comfortable recalling here. I left the relative quiet of the campus and entered the workplace as a reporter on a large metropolitan newspaper.

“You can use one of those desks over there,” the editor said, so I chose a spot. It was from that vantage point that I was confronted with a distraction of sizable proportions, late each day as the deadlines approached. The typewriter was the machine of of choice then. I believe some readers remember the typewriter, a device that served us well for generations. Well, there were at least 50 or 60 typewriters in the large room, and all the users began hitting the keys with astonishing energy each day about the same time. It is a percussive sound, key striking paper, and as a solo it can be endearing. In a chorus of 50 or 60, it becomes a noxious clatter. Phones were ringing and there was usually some hollering in the background, too, both of which contributed to the din.

For some, it was a distraction that proved so humbling they were unnerved and had to seek a transfer to the day shift. A few chose to walk down the hall and use a typewriter in the advertising department, which was closed for the day. I had no problem. It could be a daunting distraction but I adjusted quickly and I believed that the experience would enable me to surmount any distractions I encountered in the future. I was wrong.

Those were simpler times. You understand that many lifestyle changes have taken place. It’s generally agreed that most of those changes were positive. Some cranks claim things were better in the good old days, but I disagree; things are better now. However, some of the technological advancements that brought benefits have been accompanied by distractions.

The cell phone in its various manifestations can be credited for countless distractions, yet the primary villain is the Internet. The Internet supplies an endless volume of material 24/7, much of which deserves to be ignored. It is a persistent cavalcade of distractions, the scope of which was unimaginable just a few years ago. I deal with it, but I prefer to do so with the radio playing in the background.


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