Old butterfly-brain is back

Batman-Slapping-Robin-medAfter something of a hiatus, during which blogging time (and the muse) have been sadly lacking, I thought I’d try and get back to a weekly schedule of posting. Maybe.

In the few weeks that I’ve been absent from the blogosphere, I’ve managed to part company with a small lump – aka mystery spot – via a minor procedure. The test results identified it as a basal cell carcinoma, one that is thankfully no longer around to cause any mischief.

I now sport a fine scar, although sadly on my back, so I can’t show it off like those famous German duelling fanatics.

I’m also on the brink of a new business partnership, but more on that another time. And of course I’ve managed to miss out on all the great posts by my favourite bloggers too. Sorry guys.

I would try to catch up by speed reading everything I missed, but the last time I attempted that I simply gave myself a headache, blurry vision and an inability to say the letter Q.

Having so much potential reading and audio/visual entertainment at one’s fingertips is both a delight and a serious headache, if like me, you have broad interests and a touch of the butterfly-brain syndrome.

Typical example: I’m listening to some favourite old bands on Youtube while chatting on Facebook, and I see a video clip pop up in my newsfeed that demands to be watched, right now (One memorable recent example was a clip of a British man walking an Emu in the city centre).

Gradually my browser tabs multiply as I try and then fail to finish reading a short sci-fi story (by the delightfully named Greg Bear), along with numerous other articles, blog posts, amusing pet videos and various other random sources all vying for a slice of my (short) attention span.

This behaviour mainly seems to manifest online: I don’t usually stop reading a novel to pick up another, then switch the TV on, then the radio. I generally manage to focus and enjoy the book / TV show / music at hand. That’s not to say thoughts don’t randomly intrude and need to be pushed away when I’m offline. Our minds are forever producing thoughts, and like bubbles in a glass of champagne they seem endless and appear to come out of nowhere.

according to a new study from Microsoft Corp., people now generally lose concentration after eight seconds, highlighting the affects of an increasingly digitalized lifestyle on the brain”

Some sources suggest the Internet is exacerbating this tendency we have towards short attention spans. It does concern me at times. I now find a lengthy online article daunting and struggle to finish it in one sitting. I also tend to avoid video clips longer than a few minutes and podcasts usually just get a scan through the transcript. My mind is already skipping to the next thing, as I get distracted and lose interest in the thing at hand.

All this stimulation might be useful. Perhaps it’s all intellectual fertiliser that will result in some future flowering of new ideas, projects or previously undiscovered talents. Or maybe it is simply a barrage of briefly stimulating, but ultimately useless inputs that stops us from ever doing anything meaningful.

In his book Haunted, Chuck Palahniuk has a group of writers locked in a disused theatre, their captor telling them they have three months to each write a magnum opus before he will allow them to leave. It’s (literally) a novel way to try and free people of daily distractions and make them focus, although inevitably it all goes horribly (and gorily) wrong.

I rather suspect there are many of us with creative interests, ambitions or goals who could do with a bit of a push, as well as being freed from the diabolical distraction engine that is now in our pockets, on desktops and pretty much everywhere else, 24/7.

Like many things in life the Internet is the proverbial double-edged sword. At once our greatest transformative technology and a monstrous demon, sucking our precious minutes into a great vortex of the interesting, funny or simply bizarre.

Will I manage to finish Greg’s story, get some of those fascinating articles read and enjoy my musical interludes and chats without further delays? Does it even matter?

In Fight Club, the rather better-known Palahniuk book/movie, the members of Project Mayhem threaten strangers at gun-point to follow their dreams, or else. Their driving licenses are collected by the group with the threat of lethal punishment hanging over them for not living up to their potential. Harsh, but certainly one way to get motivated.

No fear! No distractions! The ability to let that which does not matter truly slide!”

Fight Club, Chuck Palahniuk

Of course we all have to accept the time constraints placed upon us by nature. None of us knows how long we have to accomplish all the things we dream of. Nobody is likely to lock us in a old theatre, or point a gun to our heads and insist we make the most of our lives. We have to police our own time and ambitions. And as we get older, we notice time seems to accelerate rather alarmingly.

The Internet and the ubiquitous smartphone could help empower new generations to achieve things we can barely dream of. But they could also turn us into an idiocracy, dumbing us down and leaving us drowning in an ocean of misinformation and alternative facts. They are tools, and like any tool, we can use them for good or ill. Judging by recent events in the US and UK, the idiocracy edges ever closer and we may need to reassess how we use these tools.

If we really wish to learn to spread our wings, we mustn’t let our butterfly brains turn back into caterpillars. Or something.

Do you manage to stay focused and avoid distractions? What’s your secret?


© Copyright Jason Lennick 2017. All rights reserved.




12 thoughts on “Old butterfly-brain is back

  1. I’ve always had Shiny Ball Syndrome, but I think I may start using Butterfly Brain instead (with due credit). It makes me think of ADHD fairies bouncing around, sprawling glitter everywhere. That could be the wine…. I have found that eschewing social media has helped a lot. I know its not what most people want to hear. I was quite saddened during a recent trip to a spa/someone paid a stranger to run oil on me and it’s not what it sounds like/First World Gifts that I was apparently the only one in a fancy space that is specifically designed to block OUT the outside world, in the name of relaxation, that left their cell phone in the locker room. It seems we aren’t even capable of a few hours alone with our own thoughts anymore. P.S. Happy you’ve returned and are currently free of mischievous growths.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Annie! I agree a radical reduction in social media use is a smart move. And I’m sure most folks could live without their phones for the duration of a spa visit. I think I had shiny ball syndrome once, but it cleared up with some ointment.. 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeesh. You’ve been busy lately. Glad to hear that your BSC was cleanly excised, but sounds like you’ve still got your hands full with our ever-present contest with the OFF button. Good luck, and if you figure out how to shut off your inner OFF button, I’d love to hear about it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve had two basal cell growths…. one on my back and one on my nose. Keeping track of every little skin imperfection is now a distraction I can’t avoid.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Good to see you back and glad the health issue seems to be behind you. As for staying off grid, I really struggle with it. Even with lack of wifi (like recently on holiday) I find I’m seeking out a technical oasis otherwise I feel I’m seriously missing out. Obviously I’m not, proven by the lack of notifications / texts I receive once I’m back in the zone.
    I think we may need to add something to the ever increasing curriculum to teach future generations how to unplug!!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Hey stranger, welcome back. It does seem like there’s a certain irony to folks having so much media distractions that they’re obliged to filter them, and by filtering them they end up with a more restricted worldview than if there were a more limited media. Simply unplugging isn’t the answer, it’s more what you unplug from.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cheers Dave! I think you have a good point: being highly selective in choosing what to keep and what to ditch is part of the answer. There are only so many hours in the day, and all that pesky news and analysis can seriously detract from the adorable pet videos.


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