Engaging Culture

More Evidence of Our Distracted Culture

So I’m eating breakfast at a nice hotel this weekend and within a few minutes, an attractive couple walks in and sits at the table next to me. Once they ordered, the next thing they did was to pull out a mobile phone, find a music video on YouTube, set it on the table and start watching.

They never spoke to each other. The only communication between them was to sing along with the music video (much to the dismay of the other restaurant customers.)

I sat there amazed that:

1) They couldn’t get through a meal without watching a media program.
2) They never actually spoke to each other.
3) In-between chewing, they sang along at normal levels – completely oblivious to the other diners.

The distracted culture reigns these days.  People can’t get through a movie in a theater without checking social media multiple times. One study indicates Middle-School kids check social media 100 times per day on average.  We can’t drive cars without it. (As deaths from car accidents skyrocket.)  On airplanes, I rarely see anyone reading a book anymore.  The vast majority are playing video games or watching movies.

It’s changing our behavior in far more fundamental ways than we ever dreamed.

What’s your insight about it’s impact in the future?

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  1. I turn to Phil 4:4-13 when I face situations like you did this morning. I try to get my heart in the correct place which for me is not getting upset by what’s going on in my environment no matter how ignorant it is. Of course, that is easier said than done but it is a command to do so.

    Also, I’ve heard a number of Rabbis and now Christian teachers that are teaching something I learned back in the 80’s. That is, “Where there are problems, there are opportunities.” So how thankful will distracted people be when we help them to learn how to live life again or for the first time? That to me is opportunity.

    1. That’s a great saying: “Where there are problems, there are opportunities.” Thanks for giving us all something really significant to think about Neil. We can use that every day…

  2. I think the distracted culture makes it easier to stand out…. just pay attention. You can seem like a genius at human relations just by putting your phone away during a conversation.

          1. I wish there was a private way to just say, hey, here’s this. Then it wouldn’t sound snarky. I promise, it was non-snarky in intent.

  3. Not just distracted but completely lacking in awareness. So much so, they didn’t even notice you’d taken a photo of them! That’s my fear, if I’m looking at my phone out in public will I miss seeing something important? Will I miss out on learning something about the real world? Will I miss a chance to be “bored” and therefore an opportunity to think imaginatively, creatively or solve a problem? (Will I miss catching that guy sneaking a photo of me!! 😉 I love being the only one in the doctor’s waiting room not reading or looking at my phone. Being observant is an incredibly powerful soft-skill.

  4. I am still happy that nobody can reach me on a plane, so I read magazines or books. Same on a train or public transportation – I am among the very few to read something haptic.

    The two guys with the video … you are a better man than I am. I would have dared to ask them to turn the music down a bit.

    Also, I feel sad that a couple doesn’t really have to say anything to one another. I know the statistics – less than one hour of conversation a day between married couples -, but I am fiercely determined to not be in that range.

  5. As far as how it will impact the future … I think what you observed will become increasingly more the norm for a few more years. BUT I wonder if it won’t hit a saturation point where we start to get bored with it compared to a rejuvenated awareness of how coo it is (and more satisfying) to interact with humans.

      1. I think Todd is right. People do get bored with stuff–eventually. If something better or more “amazing” comes along, they’ll switch to that.

  6. Ever read anything by Nicholas Carr? Argues our habitual media habits change our brains… Anyway, focus is becoming a lost skill & I’m a content producer. I see it in myself.

  7. I recently saw that Chick-fil-A is now offering the Chick-fil-A Family Challenge… “This cell phone coop was designed to encourage families to enjoy a meal together, free of the distractions that cell phones can create. Some of the most important conversations occur over dinner time. Make conversation a priority and take the challenge next time your family enjoys a meal with us.”


  8. It has created a society who can’t focus. Seems like everyone has ADD! They hold on for about 15 seconds and then…”Oh look at the pretty butterfly” lol. That, I fear is playing a part in dumbing down out society.

  9. What I’ve been thinking about is the why, not so much what. I think many times our obsession with being online stems from helplessness in how to connect with people and our own destiny. I also feel like the mother/fatherlessnes in the culture creates a lack of importance when it comes to valuing our own lives, so we pour time into feeling some sort of empowerment through FB, etc. For example, I saw my own internet usage skyrocket when I lost my dad.

    A different side of this is how much the world has shifted, so being online is critical for research. Have confusing health issues? Well, your insurance might not cover any of it, so get to digging online to find answers.

    I could go on and on. But, that might make me stay online too long, so I shall stop. 🙂

  10. it has become that thing we do when we don’t have anything to do, or have a moment in between things…

    smartphones have just opened up so many other options in those moment…mostly unproductive ones that are counter to relationship and thoughtfulness.

    i suppose in a sense TV and music have filled these moments in the past…at least when we were somewhere we had access. But now we can take media with us everywhere we go…

  11. Phil, for a riveting account of the dangers of distraction and the impact on our brains read A Deadly Wandering by Matt Richtel.

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