Canadian pastor-blogger Darryl Dash has a post up about “continuous partial attention”, which he defines as follows:

We’re never completely tuning in to one thing because of the other stimuli competing for our attention.

  • It’s checking in on Facebook while the professor lectures.
  • It’s pulling out the smartphone while on a date with your wife.
  • It’s tweeting in the middle of a sermon.
  • It’s missing out on what’s here because we’re wondering what’s going on somewhere else that we’re missing.
  • It’s never being able to pray because we’re too distracted.

What’s lost is the ability to pay attention, to sustain thought, to be fully present. And that’s a shame when it comes to our most important relationships, not to mention our ability to think and pray.

In his post, Darryl wonders whether this could be one of the greatest pastoral issues we’re facing today. I think he could be right. This obsession with constant social media connection encourages us to lead fragmented lives where we are never fully present in the moment. I fear, in particular, for today’s young people, many of whom appear not to know how to disengage from the noise and chatter of the virtual world. This will surely take its toll in their future real-world relationships. Meanwhile, many parents sit idly by, and some even give their kids smartphones as early as five years old. This is madness.

(I blogged about this in an earlier post, More connected but further apart than ever.)