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Posted by on Aug 10, 2010

Singularity of Thought, Sanctuary

Pardon me for stating the obvious (and oft-stated), but a singular pursuit is turning into the most elusive of luxuries. I suspect this is not purely anecdotal, that many of us are experiencing attention fatigue, transition fatigue, multitasking fatigue. That we have so many demands on our attention that some of these suffer from lack of attention, a lack of focus. 

I have mentioned this before, but I am fully convinced that we in 2010 process infinitely more data on any given day than our 2000 counterparts. We are exposed to more and our filters have not yet caught up, so we are left with washes of undigested, yet seemingly significant, bits of information that we have simply failed to ignore. Sure, there are a myriad of connections with this extra data that we can make and we see this happening on a collaborative scale across the Internet. We see collaborative enterprises of scale, using that cognitive surplus that Clay Shirky refers to, to build tools for the collective good (think Wikipedia). That is indeed well and good and obviously for the betterment of all society. On an unrelated note, I do not think it is accidental that we are seeing the rise of so many liberal arts types in this environment (Shirky was an Art Major, many of the leading thinkers in this online space are indeed classicists, philosophers, etc) They are the sensemakers of this world. They see the schema underpinning the whole thing. So cultivate that mind, people. 

We are actually building incentives into this fragmented, nimble mode of thinking on a large scale. Education is now viewed as a lifelong pursuit (both formally and informally) that we pursue with abandon over the course of our lives (I think that is a good thing). We are attaching the market stimulus (the economic engine) to the pursuit of learning (why not? it is the greatest engine we know). Like a shark, we die if we come to a halt. But rather than say here I want to come to a halt (although occasionally a certain Luddite fantasy creeps over me, perhaps just a flee mechanism saying get me off this crazy ride), I would rather say that I want a singular pursuit (if only for a stretch). I want to explore, investigate, question, and cajole the meaning of a thing. One thing. However interrelated it is with other things. Stay focused on that thing. Explore it to its core and understand the essence of the thing. But am I allowed to do that? Is that contemplation valued? 

Well, it depends on what stage of understanding we find ourselves. Am I in the sensemaking mode? Then I need the Twitters, the streams, the Readers, the raw stuff of research and feedback. Or am I in the contemplative mode? Where I need to be with my thoughts, to make sense of them myself. How often do we get to this second stage? I am constantly reminded me of the Levy work on Information, Silence, and Sanctuary (a really good read. although the site might consider a different layout-good materials on the stress of information overload). I want sanctuary, a retreat from the world. Every philosopher since the dawn of recorded time has expressed a need for it. Why are we so quick to discard it? 

I came to all of this through two seemingly trivial events of the last 3 days or so. 
1. I watched a movie with my wife last night. Sitting there. Together. Smiling. One single event that made me very happy.
2. A relaxing weekend. 3 naps. A few walks at the park. A drive. Cooking. All had my rapt attention when I was doing that. There were no fractures in my thoughts. 

So there you have it. I hope you all find sanctuary on this crazy, dynamic, amazing ride. To think about the thing, the one thing, even if that thing is just marvel at the direction your life has taken to date and where it might go tomorrow. 

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