in: Behavior, Character, Sunday Firesides

Sunday Firesides: Distraction Expands to Fill the Void Available

According to Parkinson’s Law, “work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.”

A homemaker or employee will linger and dawdle over their chores and responsibilities because they can, in order to fill the day or eight-hour shift. How much time they spend on each task comes to seem like how much time each task objectively requires; yet when a schedule constraint, a special deadline, is introduced, a task that once took three hours to finish, is magically completed in just one.

There is a corollary to Parkinson’s Law at work in our relationship with technology:

Distraction expands so as to fill the void available.

We tend to blame how distracted we are by technology on the technology itself. And it’s certainly true that our phones and apps are specifically designed to be as addictive as possible.

Yet we’ve all experienced times when we were engrossed in a work project, lost in a conversation, out on a long hike, or simply wrapped up in a busier-than-normal day, and the itch to check our phones vanished. Our apps, our social media feeds, remained just as they always are, but their allure, which had seemed objective in strength, magically disappeared.

Distraction isn’t primarily a function of technology, but the conditions of our lives outside of it. We give in to distraction because we can; because no matter how busy we think we are, we still have plenty of slack in our lives. Distraction expands when we have time to waste, and when we don’t have something more compelling competing for our attention.

The cause of distraction isn’t a too strong pull towards technology, but an insufficiently strong pull away from it. It’s tamed not by app-blocking apps, or even self-control, but by the introduction of a set of greater, void-filling interests.

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