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June 2012
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Distract me from this life, please

By SEAN NIESTRATH sean.niestrath@outlook.com

Less than 20 years ago my wife and I produced and sold memory books for infants who had a difficult start in life. There were special pages for the procedures and emotions that go along with spending time in a neonatal intensive care unit. We thought it would be a good idea to put pages in the book that allowed parents to track their infants' weight and feedings (among other things).

On the advice of every doctor we consulted the pages were eliminated because they believed that they might cause more anxiety and distraction in addition to the stress already felt by the families. The focus should be on the infant, not on the numbers. Now there is an app for that. I know new parents whose preschooler can't do anything (and I mean anything) without someone stopping to enter the data.

Waiting for a seat in a restaurant with about 20 others a couple of weeks ago, my wife, son and I sat in amazement as we watched people who had chosen to spend time eating together stare at their individual screens scarcely looking up. One group of four was called to be seated three times before anyone in the group responded.

There are the more serious distractions - that stuff we call the news. It has the capability to keep us both worried and helpless to make any changes. Social media has invaded all our lives - even ones that do not engage it. If it is not distracting you it is distracting people you know.

But we all know that games on phones, apps that focus on data rather than people, stupidly biased news (meant to provoke), or shows focused on people who crave nothing more that attention are not the real sources of distraction. I am not particularly opposed to tracking the progress of an infant, saving money on gas or playing games on a phone. What is troublesome is the developed need to use these things to avoid living life or strengthening our relationships.

This world that we live in is different than it was even 15 years ago, and the pace of change does not seem to be abating any time soon. There have always been distractions. What I believe has changed is that what was once rightly considered distraction is now mainstream.

There are people today who believe it is possible to do two or more things at the same time, and do them well. Many no longer consider it rude to have a phone out on the table during a meal. It is perfectly acceptable to interrupt a conversation in order to take a phone call or answer a text. We have new vocabulary - "tolling" or "cyber-bullying" - to describe horrid behavior. These are people who thrive on distracting others from useful conversation or staying focused on the better parts of our lives.

With all the noise around us, it is imperative for us to take life back from data and technology. They are tools, but they will run (and ruin) our lives if we are not in control of it. There are beginning to be diagnosed conditions in some people who are addicted to social media or games. The importance of a focused life is important because the seeking of distraction begins with an undisciplined, unfocused life.

People struggle every day against the technology that surrounds us. Hours are lost because of chasing "click-bait" or getting drawn in to drama that has nothing to do with them. It is for each of us to get involved in meaningful relationships and the helping and encouraging of others to build up resistance to the need for distraction.

There is a book in a collection called the Apocrypha with the short name of Sirach. In 41:1-2 it says this: "O death, how bitter is the reminder of you to one who lives at peace among his possessions, to a man without distractions, who is prosperous in everything, and who still has the vigor to enjoy his food! O death, how welcome is your sentence to one who is in need and is failing in strength, very old and distracted over everything; to one who is contrary, and has lost his patience!" (RSV)

An undistracted life is a focused life, one that is moving toward a goal. We all get lost occasionally, but let us encourage each other in doing well and staying focused on what is good and truly important.

Sean Niestrath lives and ministers in Madisonville. You may contact him via email at sean.niestrath@outlook.com.

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