Friday, May 17, 2013

Paying attention

I’m not answering.
“Claus?! Are you doing something else again?”
“Me? No, I’m listening.”
Of course that’s a lie. While talking to my sister on skype, I’m also busy checking facebook, eating porridge for breakfast and adding things to my todo list. All at the same time – nothing with proper focus!

Up until a few years ago, multitasking was an ability owned exclusively by the versatile housewife. Nowadays it seems that it’s a basic requirement for everyone who wants to survive in the daily jungle of hyper-connectedness. There’s simply not enough time to read all those emails, tweets, whatsapp messages, facebook posts, news articles and business updates. Plus we need to squeeze in telephone chats, skype conversations, the latest youtube video, shopping on itunes and amazon, downloading study materials, booking a flight, a train, a bus, a car. Not to forget we still have to work, eat, drink, shit, sleep, wash and dress! In short: modern life has become so demanding that many of us feel that we won’t get anything done unless we do everything at once.

But wait a minute – what about quality? Doing several things simultaneously, are we really able to do all of them well? Can we focus on one task while being distracted by another? Sure, we can clean and dance and laugh, all at the same time. But what about communicating?

Can I have a good conversation with my sister while liking photos on facebook? Can I write a decent article while checking emails every five minutes? Can I listen to a friend while reading random words on a tiny screen? Can I produce a thoughtful answer while already pressing the send button?

The truth is: the 21st century is providing us with the best communication tools ever, yet the quality of communication is getting worse and worse. And in a world with 7 billion people, with endless problems to solve and new challenges to take on, is there anything more important than communication? Can we afford to keep misunderstanding each other?

Neither the all-knowing internet nor the smartphones can be blamed. It’s the human being who is stupid! The solution? To simplify life again by doing one thing at a time. Monotasking instead of multitasking! If you skype, skype; if you email, email; if you listen, listen. In this way we’ll have less stress and more quality time. We’ll lose confusion and gain clarity – not by paying money for another fancy device, but by paying attention!

Thanks to Anthony Amrhein for the continuous inspiration!


  1. Thanks Claus. It is good to contemplate our madness together. I ask myself the question what is fueling my inability to stay with my experience, why am I so scattered, what impels me to keep my attention moving, grasping, rejecting...if I can solve this then I will know happiness, I will know my own presence...and then all the effort to make myself mono-task is gone. So I am curious about the underlying cause. What is it I am avoiding by filling my life all the time...never being able to relax and just be, just talk, just read, just listen...

    To get there, to develop some insight, to find a way of peering into my own mind, I need to slow down and bring my awareness to my frenetic multi-tasking each moment and then I may notice what I am experiencing, what I wish to avoid, and it will no tbe obvious, but subtle and hidden, it will take time and effort. But in that investigation is the seeds of understanding, and in understanding is acceptance and in acceptance is a freedom from identification, and in that freedom to see without so much baggage is my original face.

    1. I think you hit the nail on the head Rob: only through real understanding can monotasking become effortless. What are we avoiding? I don't know. Maybe we don't want to feel that we miss out on something, maybe we feel responsible for doing EVERYTHING, maybe we are scared of a moment of emptiness... Whatever it is, slowling down definitely seems to be the first step in trying to get some answer.

  2. I'm always multi-tasking, Only this morning I was looking at photos and masturbating...


    I think we are enculturated with the idea that if we don't keep up with everything we'll miss out, where in truth we miss nothing. I don't facebook, tweet or skype, or have a TV and feel life is fuller, not more empty.
    Perhaps the mass of distractions are really just that - fluffy nothings designed to keep us busy so we don't think too much. After all, since I gave up TV etc. I have begun to see how terribly governed we are - I genuinely feel like a man who has kicked a drug and woken up. If everyone stopped to take note, I'm hopeful we'd all overthrow our various powers tomorrow...

    As for sitting still. I think the scariest part of that is the chance of meeting ourselves. In our cores most of us westerners are a mess, full of psychological barbed wire from the unhealthy social and personal messages our culture feeds us every day.

    Peace to you.

    1. Exactly, what are we missing out on? Nothing against Facebook etc, but it's not that we need all that stuff for breathing purposes.

      Meeting ourselves can be scary indeed, I totally agree. Maybe that's why we often choose (subconsciously) to not pay attention - cause when we pay attention, when we really look at ourselves or at the world, we see what it's really like. We meet reality and that can be rather sad (or scary or shocking or many other things). In that way, multitasking is just a way to hide from all the stuff we don't want to face. But of course there's a time and place for everything, so keep enjoying those photos...;-)