Have you got Focus?

Hot on the heels of James Scott Bell’s great post yesterday on the top ten events of the highly successful writer, I want to add to this by highlighting the downside of the digital age – its impact on both writers’ and readers’ ability to stay focused.

For writers, digital distractions are everywhere. At the moment my personal bugbear is my inability to wean myself off mindlessly checking the internet whenever I lose steam in my writing – the result? At least ten minutes of Daily Mail, Facebook and Gmail distraction resulting in – you guessed it, a complete loss of focus. Over the last week I’ve been paying greater attention to my writing habits (or lack thereof) and have realized that checking the internet has become a sort of ‘default’ setting whenever I’m stuck on a sentence or unsure of a passage of dialogue. I worry that my brain has lost the ability to focus for more than an hour at a time without craving some sort of distraction when the going gets tough. The answer to my problem is clearly weaning myself off the distraction itself but I’m surprised at how difficult this has become. I know I’m going to have to retrain my brain somehow as well as impose much stricter limits on succumbing to these distractions. My  fear is that my ability to focus for long periods of time is already slipping away from me (can you hear the screams?…)

As readers, digital distractions allow ourselves to fulfill our craving for something new and more interesting whenever our focus wavers. Recently, I’ve found it is much harder to keep my focus on a book when my interest starts to wane. Whereas in the past I would plough on for a bit, hoping that a book would regain my interest, I now find myself turning to digital distractions much quicker than I ever would have put a book down before.

I’m sure lack of focus has always been an issue for writers and readers, but I do feel that the increasing levels of digital ‘noise’ that surrounds us is making it much harder (at least for me) to keep the level of sharp focus I need on my writing. It certainly makes me less efficient and productive – although, thankfully, I still manage to pull off bursts of fear-induced focus which means I am completing my writing projects on time. I just feel that I need to develop techniques to sharpen my focus, increase my attention span, and spurn the digital ‘siren’ call that is all too easy to heed.

So what about you – do you find the digital world is making you lose focus? Have you developed strategies to overcome this while writing (or reading). Although disconnection is always an option for periods of time, it’s hard for this to be a permanent ‘default’ setting when so much of our world revolves around digital communications. So…any and all ideas on the best way to retrain my brain to maintain focus will be gratefully accepted…

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Mob Rules?

Two recent articles in the New York Times  caught my attention – not just because they highlight the frenzy of vitriol that so often explodes on social media but also  because they point to a disturbing ‘faceless mob’ mentality permeating our digital lives. As a writer, an active presence online (to both market and publicize my work as well as create connections with my readers) is, however, a necessity but one which, especially after reading these articles, I increasingly view with trepidation.

The first article “Feed Frenzy‘ details the misery of online ‘shaming’ victims – people like Lindsey Stone and Justine Sacco who, because of inappropriate and ill-advised jokes/tweets, were subject to relentless (and I mean relentless) Twitter attacks that all but ruined their lives. I have always been cautious about what I tweet but after reading this article I’m not sure I want to tweet anything ever again!

The second article entitled ‘The Epidemic of Facelessness‘ points to the dissonance between the world of faces (the real world of interpersonal communication) and the world without faces (our increasingly ‘anonymous’ digital lives). Apart from the disturbing number of ‘troll’ incidents reported with varying degrees of threats of person violence against actual people, there is also the basic lack of humanity and compassion that we now see spreading across the digital world. The article highlights a few key rules we need to adopt when ‘conversing’ through Twitter, Facebook and other social media. One is ‘Never say anything online you wouldn’t say to someone’s face’ (something you’d think would be pretty obvious) and the other is ‘Don’t listen to what people wouldn’t say to your face’ (a much harder proposition I think for most of us).

Now I’m pretty sure I’ve never said anything on social media that I wouldn’t say to someone in person. Likewise, however, there are many things I won’t say on social media that I would say to someone’s face – and that self-censorship is starting to make me feel disheartened. It’s hard to be a writer in this digital age and not engage online with readers across a range of social platforms and media – but  often I feel that I cannot really present myself authentically on social media because of the risk of trolls, flame-wars and all the other horrible reactions seemingly innocuous posts or tweets can inflame (as anyone who’s ever been on any social media has witnessed). I find myself refusing to comment not just on political or social issues that I would otherwise freely discuss, but also hesitating to post or comment on a range of issues that in my ‘real world’ I wouldn’t even think twice about talking about. It’s become an issue not just about professionalism versus personal disclosure but about censoring my online ‘appearances’ to the extent that I fear I must be very boring indeed!

So what do you TKZers think about the current state of our ‘faceless’ digital world? How do you navigate the treacherous digital waters?

Have you ever been the subject to the kinds of ‘faceless’ attacks these articles discuss? Do you, like me, censor how you appear online (not just out of professionalism, but also out of fear?). Does the current ‘faceless mob’ mentality affect how you market and publicize your work online? What about what you actually write? Are you even hesitant to deal with controversial political or social issues in the work itself?

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