There was a great article today on hacker news from the Paris Review entitled "Reading in the age of constant distraction". The article is (as you might imagine) about reading, but like all good articles it touches on a great deal more than just its stated subject.
Having read it, I found myself reflecting on a lot of the patterns that I've picked up over the past few years, and thinking about how I could change some of them. The one that stands out to me particularly is "horizontal reading" - essentially reading for information, and not necessarily for content. Sites like twitter, facebook, reddit, and even google news are more or less optimized for this. I can't tell you how often I open google news having just closed another news tab, just to scan the headlines.
It reminds me in some sense of being in graduate school, late at night with 100 hours of homework to do and 80 hours to do it in. In that moment, despite my deep seated love for Author X, I could care less about his prose because I just need to know where in Textbook Y the damned formula is that I need. There's urgency there - a deadline. But the news is different because there's no real urgency there, it's all misplaced urgency. It's like a hotline to my amygdala that lights up because WHAT IF I MISSED SOMETHING. I've yet to miss anything as far as I can tell.
Extending that idea, I realized that I've also been, in many contexts, "horizontally living" - basically hitting refresh on the things that are happening to me in my real life by checking my phone at the dinner table, looking at slack too often, constantly listening to or watching something during idle time. Maybe it's the influence of the Cult Of Productivity, maybe it's urgency bleeding over from work into the rest of my life, maybe it's something else altogether. But I feel resolved to slow down.
So I'm going to spend more time engaging in more "meditative activities". For starters, my wife and I have been practicing archery recently (myself for bowhunting, her for just fun), and I've found that to be a great mind-body centering activity. As my friend James said it recently, when you loose the arrow you can feel it if you were thinking about something else.
I'm also going to leave my phone off my person while I'm at home. I'm going to start using RescueTime more seriously, and reinstall Focus. I'm going to turn slack off for most of the day and ask people to reach me by email instead. Etc etc. I think this is likely to be a habit that's going to take some breaking, but my sense is that it's going to be worth it. I guess I'll find out!