Have you ever wondered about screens? Those vibrant rectangular panels crouching in our living rooms, anchored to our keyboards, hanging from our walls and hiding in our pockets? Screens are everywhere. They inform us, they entertain us, they connect us, they teach us, they direct us and they offer us a lot of substance in our technologically dependent lives. But they distract us too. And not just in a -oh let me quickly check this Snap-Chat while I merge onto the highway-kind of way. I’m talking about a deeper kind of distraction.

I got the idea while I was working out a few days ago. The Goodlife Fitness that I train at recently installed more flat-screens in the gym, this time in the free-weight section. That means there’s a screen perched in your periphery at all times, if not directly, then through the reflection of a mirror. And the worst part is: I can’t ignore them.

See, I fully intended on focusing my energy on my shoulder workout instead of on Nicki Minaj’s impossibly round booty bouncing off each edge of the screen above me. But set after set, regardless of my location in the gym, I found neck craned towards the nearest screen and my eyes glued to the madness. Then it hit me. I wasn’t lending my attention to the many screens plastered across the walls of Goodlife.. my attention was being stolen.

Focus is a finite resource, that’s why you have to chose what to put it on. The problem is: media producers have figured out how to trick our cognitive systems into paying attention to the garbage they release. Let’s take every rap/pop/top 40’s video for example.

What are the features of these productions? Attractive girls dancing seductively, exquisite sports cars littered about, beautiful natural scenery and a whole bunch of folks having a bummpin’ good time. These things appeal to us on a very primitive level. Who doesn’t want a hot mate? Who doesn’t want sex? Who doesn’t want so much money they can throw parties on jet boats?

Then there’s the production mechanics. At 2-3 frames per second these videos are tremendously stimulating for our novelty seeking minds. Put simply, you only have to wait a fraction of a second before you get to see a new picture. And who doesn’t like pictures?

What I’m really trying to get at is this: screens steal our attention. Whether it’s a screen on a gym wall that we’d rather not be there or the screen we pull out of our pocket and illuminate intentionally out of sheer habit, we have a seriously hard time avoiding the impulse to look. But maybe we aught to. Especially if we value our focus and intend to shed it on more important things.. like shoulder workouts.

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