Attention, Please!

Ashish Mehta 

By Ashish Mehta 

I am writing this on a Word document, on a computer with many tabs open on the screen. WhatsApp on the web, one cannot do without. Two email accounts, personal and professional, must be on. A news portal is on; too many things are happening these days, and one must remain updated.

The phone, an indispensable organ of our bodies, is never outside the five-foot range. As I start the next sentence, there’s a ping sound. Excuse me, I have to check that notification from one of the countless apps on the phone. By the time I complete this paragraph, a school-time friend has shared a joke on a messenger app, and many have reacted with smilies. More pings in a family group to wish an uncle a happy birthday. The courier rings the doorbell, the cooker whistles for the second time. Or was it third?

I have something so prevalent that it has an acronym now. Fear of missing out or FOMO; missing out on so much happening elsewhere, on sharing emojis and condolences. Not to mention missing the fifth whistle and the deadline for this article.

Being in the flow makes the work rewarding in itself. That has become a luxury now due to all the gadgets and apps that promise to make life easy.

That, I believe, is the story of most professionals working from home, though offices are not distraction-free either. So many triggers are pulling us in so many directions. It used to be called multi-tasking, something to be proud of. It is now a pain in the neck, often literally. The only thing missing in this work style is the most important thing: a state of undivided attention to the task on hand, being so engrossed one forgets oneself, a Zen-like state. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi called it ‘Flow’. Being in the flow makes the work rewarding in itself. That has become a luxury now due to all the gadgets and apps that promise to make life easy.

If we want to find out what ails society, we can check a lot of data or check the titles of self-help books. Attention is a hot keyword in that segment these days. Among the trendsetters was ‘Indistractable: How to Control Your Attention and Choose Your Life’ by Nir Eyal. The beauty of this book’s pitch is that the author had earlier written ‘Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products.’ He was a consultant to firms for designing products that would help build loyalty and let people come back. It is like the YouTube recommendations that dish out more Lata Mangeshkar classics after you listen to one, and then you can’t resist just one more. Eyal thus helped, as it were, develop a problem and then create a solution. Not a bad business strategy, creating a market twice over.

The latest best-seller is ‘Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention’ by Johann Hari. The title is on one of the many lists on post notes next to the computer, crying for my attention. When I find quality time – even quantity time will do – between two bouts of incessant scrolling, I plan to read it. But I wonder if the book has an app version.

Ashish Mehta 
Ashish Mehta