Reclaiming Downtime

Be still, and know that I am God. (Psalm 46:10)

Could technology actually be making us dumber?

In answer to this question, today’s post brings together two concepts which I have been thinking about this week: A recent seminar I attended on paying attention, and this week’s Robcast, entitled The Importance of Boredom, which discusses the negative impact of technology on our emotional and intellectual wellbeing.

Apparently we are exposed to a mass of information equivalent to 174 newspapers everyday. Our brains sort between meaningless distractions and important information which is worthy of our attention. This process is very important because we cannot afford to waste our attention on meaningless distractions. Researchers tell us that we only have about 4 hours of collective concentrative attention to spend each day.  If this attention is wasted on meaningless junk, we will have none left over for important tasks. We, therefore, need to be mindful about what we are spending our 4 hours of attention on each day.

In The Importance of Boredom, Rob Bell notes that in our modern world we are constantly bombarded with information, through phones, ipads, and televisions, much of which is meaningless and unimportant. As Rob notes, we continually consent to this bombardment by directing our attention to our electronic devices, which robs us of much-needed downtime, in which deep thoughts and emotions are processed. It is in this downtime, whether idle day-dreaming or day-dreaming while performing simple activities, that most of our emotional and creative breakthroughs occur. Downtime is essential to our creativity and emotional well being.

Furthermore, by directing our attention to meaningless content we waste our daily 4 hour attention quota on junk, instead of directing it to more profitable pursuits.

In short, we need to take back control of our attention, and allow ourselves the downtime we need. This looks like eliminating unnecessary distractions from your day by limiting screen time and social media, as Rob suggests, and rediscovering the lost art of device-free day-dreaming.

As Rob also notes, Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God” speaks powerfully to this idea of limiting the distractions of daily life. The problem is we have forgotten how to “be still” as we have become more and more adept at filling the gaps of stillness with the white noise of social media, television, and other entertainment. All of these distractions drown out the experience of the Divine. Let’s reclaim our downtime, and spend our attention wisely, as we rediscover the Divine in the quiet and stillness of our lives.



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