I cannot pay attention.

In an age in which we are so thoroughly interconnected, there is always something else to do. Something to read, to look up, to watch, to communicate — there is always something. Being forthright, while writing this, I probably checked my phone, went on social media and worked on an assignment. With information so accessible, constant distraction feels inevitable. This inability to entirely devote my attention to something for an extended period of time has only gotten worse and this lack of discipline has seeped into all aspects of my life.

Family gatherings, hanging out with friends, class — the dynamics of how we interact are different given that almost everyone has access to devices that allow them to divert their attention elsewhere. It is one thing to look up further information on something in class. It is another thing entirely to miss out on what is happening around you.

This sounds like something that may have an easy solution — simply just putting one’s laptop away or phone down should do the trick. But in a society in which we are so dependent on technology, is that even really feasible? I have, along with many college students, become entirely too accustomed to living with the ability to access information whenever and wherever I want and a transition away from such could prove difficult.

My struggle to pay attention has taken away my ability to live in the moment.

Growing up, my mom’s response to being on phones was always, “Live in the moment” — and she was right. Due to the reality that my brain is consistently multi-tasking, I cannot fully appreciate what is going on around me.

Within the last few months, I came to the determination that taking a social media hiatus would cut back on my technology usage and allow for me to participate more fully in what is happening in the present, instead of viewing life through edited squares and filtered posts. While this worked for some time, my dependence on not necessarily just my phone, but access to distraction, remains. I still use my phone just as often as I would have beforehand, maybe just approaching social media with more of a second thought than before.

This leads me to pose the question: How can I live more in the moment and move past this persistent need to always be doing something? Can I, with the prevalence of interconnectedness, take a step back and just be? I do not know. I could put my phone away, use it less or not bring my computer to class as a means to ensure I pay full attention, but would these disciplined choices be drawbacks in a society in which usage of technology is almost expected?

With these resolutions come the fear that, without technology, I will fall behind. I will not be caught up on the latest piece of news, what is going on with friends or family or even the weather. I will not be fully equipped to manage my day-to-day without the possibility to be efficient and juggle the differing expectations. This anxiety that I could always be doing something else takes away from focusing on one thing and doing it well.  

While I understand this might not pose an issue for everyone, many of us seem to live in this frantic manner in which technology is an omniscient presence — an accessory to our being. This has caused a counteraction, with many, some ironically on social media, saying that they are going to “unplug.” This movement away has become in vogue, but is it possible?

Moving forward, living in the moment will be a priority. I can do so much more if I figure out how to silence the noise of constant distraction or the temptation to check my phone in class or at work. I can be without having to think about the next thing. I want to be able to sit and have a conversation, read a book or finish something for school without having the urge to try and accomplish numerous things at once. I want to be able to rid myself of the inability to be present that technology has created by firmly establishing myself within a singular moment. I cannot pay attention — and maybe I should start by putting my phone down first.

Sam Szuhaj can be reached at szuhajs@umich.edu.

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