From The Guilty Secret of Distracted Parenting:

And [my children] might point out that when we did sit down, I surreptitiously read the newspaper at the breakfast table. And I pulled a book out of my bag at the playground if I thought I could get away with it. Speaking of old technologies, at our day care center there was one father — a big-shot professor — who was so brave that he did the worktime while wearing his Walkman (remember those?).

And for that matter, may I call as my witness Abraham Lincoln, who is reported to have walked up and down the street in Springfield, Ill., in the mid-1800s, pulling his young sons in a wagon while reading a book (and as the story goes, he went right on reading when a child fell out of the wagon).

I tweeted about a parent I overhead a few weeks back with the gall to tell their give-or-take six year-old, "When I'm on my phone, you DO NOT do that!" We are more distracted as a society, but I enjoy the way this NY Times piece reminds us it's not like this is a new thing. I used to always carry around a paperback until, well, until I could carry the books around even more conveniently on my phone.

What's more important to realize, perhaps, is just how many "distractions" of the 80s (and before) aren't considered distractions today. Talking to someone else, regarding the birds flying, checking out cars on the street... the things we used to do to give our brains a break before would often be considered contemplative and "authentic" engagments today.

Why is that? I think there's some small part of the distinction that's linked to feeling "productive". Phone distractions are measurable. Your digital distractions have metrics. Children, birds, conversations are all unique experiences. You can't, much as Instagram & Facebook tries, share breakfast with others with your network online, not really, not, to borrow a term, losslessly. Distractions that aren't swipeable are in a newly reconfigured set of experiences of unmeasurables.

We no longer value the unmeasurable enough. Before, the unmeasurables were valid pursuits on their own merits. We only had to justify their value to ourselves. Now, unable to "share" them fully as digital copies (and have their worth rubber-stamped by our virtual selves), we undervalue them -- while at the same time lamenting their loss as we search for a new term that could reinvigorate their value in a society no longer predisposed to appreciate them.

I should go to sleep. ;^)

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