At Home, but Not Really: Attention and Focus in a Digital World


Are you having trouble paying attention to simple tasks like I am? For a long time now I have subscribed to digital minimalist philosophy and have even taught it in my classes, but I think it’s especially important right now.

We should use digital media intentionally, essentially Kondo-ing everything not strictly necessary for an allotted time, and then reintroducing only that which furthers our personal or professional goals.

Using technology mindfully rather than mindlessly

More than ever, we need to be careful where we invest our attention. It is easily absorbed in the news and online resources that are forwarded to us. My university students recently expressed that though their bodies were at home, distance learning kept them from spending meaningful time with their families.

They were at home, but not really.

Research shows that when we quickly move from one task to another and back, we are hurting our brains. Kids naturally have a short attention span and move quickly from one thing to another.

Paying Attention to our own Attention Span

As parents, we can help our kids grow their attention span by being careful about our own.

I am constantly tempted to jump from one screen to another in the name of efficiency, yet if I am to take the research seriously, I need to stop and just focus on one task at a time, and when it’s done, move on to the next task.

I think we need to be especially vigilant of our attention now during the Coronavirus pandemic, when a lot of what we are doing is online, and the internet begs us to switch tasks from second to second. It feels exciting and even productive to switch tasks and windows. But it’s also hurting our attention in the long run.

If you are having trouble concentrating on any one thing, try slowing down. If we would benefit from anything right now, it’s meditation.

I’m convinced that slowing down as much as is possible is the key to being healthy during this time.

I myself have become more hermit-like: I still talk to long-distance friends on the phone, which I always have. But I don’t want to communicate with anyone by phone, email, and text, much less by Zoom. We need to be aware of how our activities affect our attention. Everyone will mean something different by “slowing down,” but I think the concept is a good start.

Be All There

While we’re home, let’s try to be home. What a shame it would be to be home but not really.

May Book Recommendation:

Casey Schwartz, Attention: A Love Story (2020)

Cal Newport, Digital Minimalism (2019)

Jenny Odell, How to do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy (2019)

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Mariana loves sandwiches best, although going 95% vegan two years ago means having traded in ham and swiss for eggplant and roasted red pepper. Her boys, Santiago (5) and Sebastian (3), agree that sliced bread is the greatest thing since sliced bread. The boys are native Spanish speakers despite the fact that neither of their parents is, which has made raising them in Spanish a labor of love. Her commitment to raising bilingual children was made possible by being a first-generation Chilean-American born and raised in New York City, and by having spent two pre-kid years living abroad in Mexico City and Salamanca, Spain. Mariana moved to the RGV in 2010 and never wants to live anywhere else. While the kids are at school, Mariana is a full-time Assistant Professor of Philosophy at UTRGV. She has written for the New York Times, Womankind Magazine, and Yahoo Parenting.


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