Are you a superhuman studying for a degree?

Image of a man dressed in a capeI felt like a superhuman. I could be in multiple places at one time, engaged in various activities, and converse with more than one person at the same time. I felt that I was invincible.

Wouldn’t this make me the smartest person? Getting distinctions for my exams shouldn’t be difficult, right? Well, not quite. Recently, I noticed some significant changes in me. I had difficulty sustaining attention. When being spoken to, I often found my mind drifting away. You could be telling me about an unpleasant episode you had at work, with your neighbour or with your family, all in the hope that I, the listener, could empathise with you. Alas, I had a problem even remembering your antagonist’s name, much less the way he had caused you to be so upset.

This, without a doubt, was utterly disappointing. I wasn’t a superhuman after all.

It is no big secret what this “thing” is. I am quite sure that every one of you owns at least one, two, probably more.

I am talking about the gadget(s) that we cling onto and never lose sight of. It could be an iPhone, a Samsung note or Samsung Edge, or any of those fanciful, sleek and shiny devices that make us feel that we are so much more well-connected than we have ever been. We reply to emails while dining with our family; we surf the net for special online purchases from Black Friday sales while watching TV; we look at our friends’ photos of their trips to Iceland or Bali on Facebook while travelling to work.

Technology has, indeed, brought me so much convenience. I researched and saved articles on my tablet with the Pocket app. I store countless eBooks on my tablet so that I could carry my entire library with me. I watch YouTube videos while waiting for a friend who was late for an appointment. I save numerous recipes on my Evernote app, and whip one out anytime I wish to bake  certain types of muffins or cookies. It gives me the delusion that I have a gigabyte or even a terabyte memory, that I could teleport from one place to another, and do variegated tasks simultaneously. However, while I applaud at how the technological marvel of today has rendered me so much help, especially when it comes to my studies, I wish to take a caveat to say that it has brought me much damage too.

Technology is, therefore, a double-edged sword. As much as it is a loyal servant that promises to store millions of pieces of information in its huge capacity, and transports me miles away to enjoy multiple experiences, it has not made me godlike at all. Rather, it has made an inferior human out of me. This is especially so when I realised that I could not even give my undivided attention to a friend, whose request was a few minutes of my time when spoken to. How could it even be possible then, for me to pay sufficient attention while reading a dense academic essay, to digest and mull over it, so that I could build a strong enough argument for my essays in the exams?

Here are a few questions to see if the technological habits of yours are more deadly than you know:

  • Do you often have difficulty sustaining attention?
  • Do you often not seem to listen when spoken to?
  • Do you often avoid, dislike, or are reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental efforts?
  • Are you often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli?
  • Do you often have difficulty organising tasks and activities?
  • Do you often fail to give close attention to details?

According to Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th Edition), a person with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) has most, if not all, of the problems mentioned.

Book cover of Safran-FoerIn his article “Technology is Diminishing Us” in The Guardian, Jonathan Safran Foer believes that in this high-speed world, “our relationships to the world, and to one another, and to ourselves, are becoming increasingly miserly.” We place more emphasis on speed rather than depth. We are, therefore, becoming less empathetic and less patient individuals as we are often distracted; our attention is always scattered across millions of acres. We are never a full human with a full mind, giving our 100% to the task in hand, or to the person we are with.

In an interview with Kristin Scott Thomas in the Autumn 2016 edition of Penguin’s The Happy Reader, she confesses that she had difficulty settling down with a book. The computer came in her way and soon, she found herself spending an hour shopping online instead of reading happily as she had planned. She feels that “it is very invasive actually, because you don’t take time to DO things anymore.”

I should not allow this technological hurricane to hurl me hither and thither. Here are a few steps I wish to implement in my daily life from now on:

  • Use the ‘do not disturb’ function on my phone when I am studying or reading. This means that the phone will ring only when the people on my favourite list, such as my family members, call me.
  • Use a hard copy dictionary instead of the dictionaries online to check for words. Although checking for words online is much faster and easier, especially when I am not sure of its spelling, it has often proved to be rather distracting. I might be checking for only one word, but my focus will be lost in a myriad of other things, contributed by one pop-up ad, a notification of a new email, etc.
  • No electronic devices while having my meals.

Family sitting at Christmas dinner tableAt the dawn of the New Year, let’s make it one of our resolutions to become a person who is less attached to our gadgets, and use this double-edged sword in our favour. Let’s begin by being less of a ‘superhuman’ this Christmas. Switch off that phone, that computer or that tablet; let’s be fully present and fully engaged with the company we have at the Christmas dinner table. That, to my mind, is the best gift to others and to ourselves.

Tiffany is studying the BA English by distance learning in Singapore.

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