Wednesday, May 20, 2009

173 Billion Chances

I read the most recent New York magazine atop the atmosphere (aka on a plane) yesterday and found myself enamored with Sam Anderson's article "In Defense of Distraction". Anderson acknowledges our crackberry crazed worlds constantly interrupted by Facebook, Twitter, email and everything else, and then makes the case for why all of these new innovations and tendencies for multitasking might not be such a horrible change.

I don't know if Einstein or Lennon would have benefited had they been children of today's technological world as Anderson suggests, but this article is certainly worth the read. A day later I'm still deciding whether or not restlessness will be an advantage in our society of "techno-cognitive nomadism" as Anderson puts it, and I'm still wrestling with the effects of the world we've created for ourselves.

Regardless of whether or not I can completely jump on board with his thesis, Anderson made a point in this article that I hope will stick with me for the rest of my life. In refering to Winifred Gallagher's new book Rapt, he talks about the importance of attention. Gallagher argues in her book that the ability to focus your attention is essentially the secret of life. Whether it's an attentiveness to what you're eating (which can supposedly help you lose seven pounds in a single year) or the fact that you're able to pay attention to your loved ones, attention is Gallagher's Holy Grail.

It seems to me sometimes that distractions don't matter because there's all the time in the world to pay attention to what's important. "I can find peace in Central Park tomorrow or read that literary masterpiece in a year," I often tell myself. But our time, even for the long living, is more limited than we sometimes realize. A person can absorb 110 pieces of information per second. The average person then, is limited to the absorption of 173 billion bits of information in a lifetime (not even three times the amount of dollars Warren Buffett has to his name). Suddenly what I'm reading or the time I spend learning about any given subject is much more significant.

At the end of the day, or at the end or our lives for that matter, we are ultimately made up of the things that snagged our attention. Some, fleeting distractions, others, lasting obsessions and unending dedications. How we leave our mark though, is all about where we focused our attention.

You may not be able to learn everything or see every beauty, but you have 173 billion chances. How will you live with those chances? What will you do with yours?


Today's music recommendation is Matthew Barber, a singer/songwriter with a knack for a low key sound and breathtaking lyrics. My favorite Barber song is "And You Give." Give it a listen; it's well worth the 25,080 bits of information you could process in the time it takes to drink this song.

Matthew Barber - "And You Give"

Wasn't it worth it, if only for the line "Then came fall, babe, and we fell hard. Bruised our bodies, skinned our knees and our hearts."