I often think of watching TV as a distraction.
The word itself is important. Distraction. It seems like it comes unbidden from somewhere outside of the normal noise of my daily thoughts – below, above, I don’t know – but I don’t think about the activity, and decide on the world “distraction” – it’s already there.
I used to go through long, involved thought exercises, trying to distill out exactly why I was fixated on this idea – distraction – an idea that feels powerful and important to me, but also has been difficult to nail down, to keep in place long enough to actually understand and form an opinion worthy of action on.
Having had difficulty defining what I’m really talking about, all I can do to give it shape is to work backward from practical examples and hope something meaningful appears:
Playing video games? Distraction. Eating junk food? Distraction. Facebook? Distraction. Twitter? Distraction.
Some things are less clear. Cleaning the garage? Maybe a distraction. Reading a book? Harder to say, but probably not a distraction. Going for a walk? Watching a good movie? Somehow, in spite of my judgement of TV, watching a movie often, is not condemned as “distraction”.
Going for a run? Writing? Working? Decidedly not distractions.
What about the term I seem to have chosen to describe these things?
I was reminded of this thought a few days ago when my brother referred to something as “indulgence”. Indulgence and distraction have something in common – both can only exist in the face of a larger goal. You indulge in something as a respite from what you’ve identified to be your true goal, your true direction.
Distraction, similarly, can only exist against the backdrop of a larger goal, a greater purpose, or _something_ demanding our attention.
With this in mind, what is the common thread between the activities I deem “distraction”? Does it even make sense, or is it just an unexamined artifact from youth, or popular culture? Does it have any value as a concept?
My best guess is that I’ll deem anything a distraction that does not have any benefit beyond the moments that I’m engaged in the activity. Watching a funny TV show can be enjoyable, but there’s rarely a lasting benefit. Eating junk food is great in the moments when the food is in your mouth, and terrible immediately after. Facebook… Oh facebook.
On the other hand, cleaning the garage is valuable for a period of time, or at least until it’s messy again. Going for a run is exercise, and much of the benefit comes after the period you spend in the activity. Reading a good book can help you understand yourself, or the world, a bit better. Working earns money, to be used later.
Essentially, the common thread seems to be delayed gratification. I’ve decided, on some level, that delayed gratification is good, and instant gratification, at least instant gratification without any lasting (positive) effect, is bad.
Back to the term. distraction. If the practical common thread is about lasting benefit, what can be extrapolated from the term _distraction_? With this criteria, one would call these activities distractions from the _real goal_, which would have to be constant, incessant, improvement. Or, to take values away, constant, inexorable movement, in _some_ direction.
Humans (or maybe just humans in a similar demographic to me) value constant movement, constant improvement, so deeply, that I don’t think we ever stop to examine it. Why do we do that? Is it even what we want?
What if constant movement, constant improvement is just distraction from something else? What if telling ourselves that we value forward motion above all else is a way of distracting from something more uncomfortable?
Forward, ever forward.