The 21st century is characterised by unprecedented technology and distraction and opportunity. Our challenge right now is to take advantage of the omnipresent opportunities while lifting ourselves above the omnipresent noise.
This is the third in a short series of articles about the paradoxes of life and living in a first-world, developed country in 2018. You can find all articles in this Paradoxes of Life and Living series here.
Paradox 3: Technology presents us with unprecedented opportunities, but also with unprecedented distraction
Between 2004 and 2007, all of these things happened.
- Facebook launched
- YouTube launched
- Twitter launched
- Steve Jobs presented the iPhone
Technology has changed the way we do everything. The app economy has tipped entire industries on their head – from travel to entertainment, media to health, shopping groceries to shopping luxuries, the way we do so many things now is completely different to the way we did it 10 or 20 years ago.
Institutions were built on the old way, which existed largely unchanged for years, in some cases decades, in the case of newspapers almost two centuries.
Unable to adapt quickly to the relentless pace of change, many institutions and ways of working have crumbled.
Children now are still studying for qualifications that will allow them to do jobs that will not exist in 10 or 15 years time.
If nature abhors a vacuum, so does economics, and new players, new business models, new ways of working have stepped in to fill the gap.
Technology is the common denominator in all this change.
The opportunities presented by technology are endless. In effect, with just a laptop, and maybe even just with a mobile phone in our pocket, we can work from almost anywhere we want and find clients almost anywhere in the world. It creates a global competitiveness that drives standards and efficiencies ever higher and higher and higher.
I remember, when my wife and I were opening our bookshop three years ago (an ill-fated project, but nothing ventured, nothing gained and absolutely no regrets) remarking that no longer could we compare ourselves against the bookshop in the next town or even up the road in Dublin; we had to compare ourselves against the best bookshops in the world, and strive to create an experience that could be compared favourably against the best anywhere.
Technology, the ready availability of comparison by way of the Internet, drove that mentality, and it drives that mentality in countless ways in every industry.
In many ways that is a great thing. Inefficiencies are good for neither human morale or bottom-line profitability.
Technology and distraction: Finding focus in the noise
But to maximise those efficiencies, to get the best out of ourselves and everything around us, we need to find focus. We need to find a place where we can concentrate fully on a difficult task for long enough to crack the nut.
And technology, the very thing that creates the opportunities, also makes it fiendishly hard to find the focus required.
The distractions created by technology are endless.
There is more noise than ever before.
Where once we had 9 to 5 jobs and our evenings and weekends were our own, now our companies are spread across multiple timezones, expanding the workday to closer to 24 hours than seven or eight. Facebook allows almost everyone to broadcast to almost everyone else in real time. We are buzzed incessantly with notification after notification after notification, our email inboxes are virtually bursting at the seams, and any idle time spent on social media will alert us to a dozen possibilities that tantalise our senses.
Is it any wonder that our attention spans are so fraught?
Is it any wonder that we find it a struggle to find the focus to create the work that will add the most value?
Our challenge is to find a way to take advantage of the opportunities this new world presents, while at the same time lifting ourselves up and away from the noise and distraction that are everywhere in this new world.
It’s not an easy challenge to overcome, but it’s an essential that we try and try and try and never give up trying.