Monday, September 05, 2005

Distracted from Distraction by Distraction

“Continual partial attention.” Microsoft apparently coined the phrase to identify the current human experience in the developed world. Marketers know this, consequently, in order to sell a product, they must be quick, engaging as many of the senses as possible – a barrage of colour, sound, flashing lights and disconnected images to engage the subconscious and conscious mind while keeping the ears listening and the eyes focused.

But it can’t last for more than 30 seconds.

At that point, even when saturated in stimuli, we know how to tune out, engage something else. Or worse, stay with one ear focused while the other locks on something new. Multi-tasking is the nice word for it. That glorious ability to answer emails, talk on the phone, listen to music, help the kids with their maths homework, and cook dinner all at the same time. Many wake up to music and fall asleep with their little while earphones, like tiny seashells, plugged in their ears. The noise is deafening, and that is the point.

Our world is, in a word, complex. Complexity is good, mature, wise even. We like the complex flavours of an exquisite meal or complex body of a nice red. We work in office complexes, we live in apartment complexes (if we are American) and we know that to be a complex person is to be interesting. We want every second of our lives packed full of action, information, excitement, entertainment, complexity. Living lives that are a tangled web of friendships, work, family, finances, social commitments, we cannot slow down and we will not stop. Besides, why would we want to bring an end to all this wonderful amusement? If we did, we might get bored. Instead, we rush from one thing to the next, "men and bits of paper, distracted from distraction by distraction."

If we rebel against complexity, we are left with the simple. To be simple, a generation or two ago, meant to be developmentally disabled. Even today, if something is simple, it is easy, obvious, unsophisticated. Simplicity has a slightly better rap thanks to vegetarian yoga magazines encouraging a simplicity in living and interior design, which usually involves brownish lentils, drinking water, and buying a frosted glass coffee table with tribal wooden accessories. Simplicity is only chic if it is expensive and cliché. Occasionally, we embrace this simplicity, but no more.

And we are tired. The world truly seems weary and stale underneath all this fun and we are, in truth, living "lives of quiet desperation." Even in church, the music often remains loud and slides accompanying the lyrics are increasingly colourful. But we can’t hear our own crying for all the noise and we certainly can’t hear a small voice whispering “be still.” If we could hear it, would we listen?

“Come aside to a quiet place and rest a while.” Jesus called is disciples away from the busy-ness of their lives after they had returned from ministering in the countryside. In order to find a quiet place, we must first remove the distraction. It is true, God can speak to us in the noise of the world; he is God, after all, and he is free to do as he pleases. Yet, we often find, as Elijah did, that the voice of God is not in the whirlwind, earthquake, or fire, but in the silence.

Getting away from distraction is difficult, especially with a TV in front of us, earphones in, and the internet an arm’s length away. In order to develop lives of stillness, we must first have lives characterised by simplicity. It is not always possible to quit work, take off for the bush, and live simply. Yet, in the rush of everyday life, we must find ways to turn off the images that bombard us, to silence the chorus of voices that keep us from hearing our own voice and, more importantly, the voice of our Lord. We must find ways to step outside the cultures that tell us we must have everything now, that we must be beautiful and popular and strong and funny. We must find ways to “be still” and know our God.

1 comment:

dickow said...

bit late but anyway...

1. The small voice is good. Make sure you don't confuse it with the whisperer and his lies.

2. It sux because now I am trained to need distraction. I can't sit still, I get bored too easily. It seriously makes it hard to have a "quiet time". I'm sitting there waiting on God's prescence and then my mind starts wandering.

3. Apparently listening to music with earphones is bad because the source of the noise is so close. With everyone having earphones in these days, we're going to have a lot of deaf people down the track. Time to get into the hearing aid business.