At the recently concluded InnovFest Unbound conference in May, a group of key players in the online commerce industry were discussing about navigating the current digital landscape amidst the buzz of big data.
Nick Nash, Group President of Garena, opined that while we now have access to immense data and information, all these are useless unless it helps us to make better decisions. For example, Fitbit devices are branded as wearable tools to help us develop a healthier lifestyle. It tracks the number of steps you take, your heart rate, the amount of sleep you get amongst other functions. In short, it collects data, a lot of it. The question is if the data it collects actually makes a difference to our well-being.
What difference will this car make?
Given the rise of the Internet of Things (IOT) and the Quantified Self (QS), the volume of information streaming in will continue to rise unabated and at exponential rates. Our ability to process the influx of data from all spheres of our lives will be a function of how well we can pay attention to the right things at the right time. This is a key attribute of mindfulness. Think of mindfulness as the way you manage your attention like a spotlight. As we navigate through this digital revolution, mindfulness will become increasingly vital to our well being, decision making and performance.
Why? What we pay attention to and how we maintain our focus amidst an avalanche of data influences the type of information we choose to examine, colours our perception and impacts the decisions we make. The average attention span in 2015 was 8.25 seconds, down from 12 seconds in 2000. For comparison sake, the average attention span of a gold fish is actually better at 9 seconds. This study is suggestive of the fact that our ability to pay attention is decreasing, while the inflow of information we process increases. We are constantly distracted by anything and everything, glued to our smartphones. Being constantly “ON”, it is no wonder many working professionals are disengaged, overwhelmed and burning out. Linda Stone, a thought leader in this field, expands on this by calling it an epidemic of continuous partial attention (CPA) – defined as the process of paying simultaneous attention to a number of sources, but at a superficial level.
Continuous Partial Attention (CPA) in progress
As the panel discussion was going on at InnovFest Unbound, many in the conference room were busy snapping photographs, posting on Facebook (myself included), tweeting, searching for the relevant hashtags, micro-blogging, and checking out the rest of the conference’s schedule. What were we really paying attention to? Many things but not really anything, yes?
We can manage CPA by practicing mindfulness, i.e. choosing what and where you focus your attention. The practice itself is not complex but what is important is to practice it with consistency and regularity.
A Simple Practice of Mindfulness
- Use your breath to anchor your attention.
- See if you can stay in touch with the full cycle of your breath, in and out, as best as you can.
- If you wander from the anchor, and realise you have drifted, choose deliberately to bring your attention back to your breath.
The mind will be sure to wander so the shift back to the breath is key, however number of times it takes you – these are valuable reps that will strengthen your attentive muscles in your own mind gym. Try this anytime and anywhere.
The digital revolution holds great promise, but it does not necessarily guarantee the improvement of our well being. When we become conscious of our own CPA tendencies, mindless online surfing, and Facebooking, we need to come back to our breath, reset our attention and make a choice. If we can live mindfully, we can then make better decisions, take better care of ourselves and those around us.