Sunday Snippet: James Harkin (Lost in Cyburbia)

“When I asked Gloria Mark, one of the researchers behind the study, why people were so keen to interrupt themselves her answer was that people have become so conditioned to being interrupted that interrupting themselves might be a way of claiming back some control of their lives.”

As I sit here at my computer, I am faced with about a dozen open web browser tabs spread across two monitors, in addition to a couple of other programs running behind those. Meanwhile, I’ve got two smartphones sitting on my desk; one is telling me that I’ve received a message in WhatsApp, while the other is reminding me that my lives have now been fully refilled in Blossom Blast Saga. (Don’t judge me.)

I’ve also got Christmas music streaming over my Sonos speakers and a toddler in the other room asking for her “baba.”

My life can be best described as one that is filled with distractions and interruptions. In many ways, I brought this upon myself by choosing to work from home as a freelancer. I can also blame the breakneck pace of the Internet for having an attention span shorter than that of an adolescent goldfish. And perhaps it is with some inkling of that entrepreneurial spirit that I find myself “suffering” from shiny object syndrome.

But I brought this upon myself.

It is within my personality to develop a nervous tic when I see a (1) in my Gmail browser tab. It’s telling me there is an unread e-mail that is desperately seeking my immediate attention. Right now. Drop everything and read it now.

Of course, it’s just another newsletter or press release that could easily go ignored for hours. Could… except, I really can’t. It’s not within my nature. It goes against my personality.

The silver lining is that now I may have some glimmer of an explanation for my unfortunate affliction. The quote above comes from Lost in Cyburbia, a book by James Harkin that is currently on my reading list. It explores the evolution of cybernetics over the years, progressing from military applications to the relentless feedback loop of modern social media. We thrive on this constant influx of information and we yearn to interact with it, to share it with our peers.

Perhaps it is with a not-so-subtle dose of irony that we discuss the challenges of interruptions. As a writer, the responsibility falls on me to “catch the beat” and to deliver text with a natural flow. To do this, I need to work in an environment ideally devoid of interruption and distraction. I need to focus. Yet, it seems that I not only allow myself to get interrupted by a vibrating smartphone; I enable it. I unconsciously welcome it, because it gives me a false sense of control.

And don’t we all want to feel like we’re in control of our lives, even if it’s nothing more than an illusion? Maybe I need to pose this question to my Facebook friends to find out.

Oh look! Another notification!