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Things I Can't Do - Scott Adams' Blog

Things I Can’t Do

I’m starting to get alarmed about my ever-shrinking attention span. When you combine my gnat-like attention span with the creeping complexity of life and my infinite to-do list it renders simple tasks impossible.

For example, every now and then I have to write an old-timey check. The entire process takes less than a minute, but I can’t concentrate long enough to fill in the date and amount without my mind wandering and my hand doing automatic writing on whatever topic is passing through. About one-third of my checks these days look like this:

Date: 4/17/14

Amount: 170.25

Written amount: one-hundred Game of Thrones who is texting me?

I have about seven unrelated thoughts before I finish the check-writing process and every one of them is more engaging than what I’m supposed to be doing. I literally can’t focus long enough to finish a one-minute process. It is simply too boring when compared to the stimulation of life.

Recently I decided to learn drumming by using video lessons on the Internet. I fire up the video, grab my sticks and wait to be shown something useful. Instead, the drum instructor starts talking about… his feeling about drumming… what he used to find challenging but doesn’t anymore…Game of Thrones, who is texting me? I literally can’t last long enough to get to the part where he hits something. I bail out, promising myself I’ll have better focus another time.

I have about a dozen computer-related problems that I’m capable of solving if I could focus on them. But they aren’t quite important enough compared to the rest of my priorities and I don’t have enough attention span anyway. Some solutions are as simple as Googling how to stop expired software from begging for a renewal. Some involve Norton Internet Security working on one browser and not another, and so on. All are easily fixable with a tiny bit of focus. But I don’t have a tiny bit of focus. So my computer operates like the economy of Greece.

For years I have referred to my smartphone as a time machine. When I’m in a long line for something, for example, I fast-forward to the future by checking email, Facebook, Internet news sites and whatnot. Suddenly I’m at the front of the line and I’m not aware of the passage of time. This method also worked at red lights back in the days when texting and driving still seemed like a good idea.

As a result of all the baseline stimulation in my life, I can’t stand as much as a few seconds of boredom. For example, I have a technical glitch with my TV setup that causes the screen to blank when the signal changes from a commercial to a show. I know the solution, but it would take up to five minutes to implement it. So it won’t happen. And every time the black screen occurs, my first thought – no kidding – is to wonder what-the-hell I’m going to do with myself for three seconds. It seems like mental torture. And keep in mind that I’m always working on my computer or drawing while the TV is on. It’s still not enough.

All of this makes me curious how kids can get through homework in the year 2014. I assume technology has shortened their attention spans too, and kids don’t have much to start with. I can’t imagine I would be able to finish high school in this day and age.

Are there any studies that show the impact of smartphones on school performance? I’m getting close to the opinion that kids shouldn’t have access to full-service smartphones during the school year. But I’d need some hard data to confirm that opinion. Does it exist?

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Scott Adams

Co-founder of CalendarTree.com

Author of the best graduation gift ever.