Saturday, 15 November 2008


The Webster's dictionary defines Attention as the act of directing the mind to a single object or thought.

Mindfulness has often been used to describe attentiveness in a meditative state of mind. It can, however, be loosely used to refer to a state of directed attentiveness in any activity. This could be a game of basketball as much as a virtual game on the Wii console.

Many of us these days realise just how fleeting our attention really is and how fickle our mindfulness when we begin to consciously focus on a single object.

Anyone who has tried to meditate can understand how fast the mind flits from thought to thought. Current emphasis on technology, speed and instant gratification only makes us worse. Human minds are running - fast in the New Age. This is not how the brain was designed by nature. In the Old Age ( for the want of a better term to describe our origins), Homo sapiens were relaxed, still and vigilant simultaneously. It appears to be an oxymoron today to most people who live and swear by the buzz word of our times- Multi-tasking.

It would be instructive to contemplate two scenarios. The first on the list is the act of running a 100 m dash. This is to be compared ( if such a comparision can indeed be made!) with a routine morning drive to the office.

First the dash. Imagine running at your top speed. Reaching the finish line, you were informed this was not it! You had to run another 100 m and then another 100 several times. Your face is now flush with the flow of all that blood. Your pulse is throbbing in your temples. Your ears are ringing with the effort and your breath is coming in short ineffective bursts. Your legs are aching and it is taking superhuman effort to keep standing. Your body is sending all the signals that it has reached its limit. You stop. Then you slow down. Intentionally, you take a deep breath, rub your temples and your calves, sit down and ... Suddenly you are jerked to your feet. You must run again!

Now imagine the morning drive. It is the physical 100 m dash over and over again in your mind.

Driving at a steady pace, the cell phone starts to ring. The music is playing in the foreground, filling up the interior of the car. The eyes are taking in everything on the road- that occassional jaywalker ( that idiot! you swear!) who is trying to dodge the cars, that car which was trying to overtake you from the wrong side ( another idiot!), and the auto rick moving at the speed of twenty in the fast lane! (Get the hell out of my way, you are screaming in your head.) And your mind is planning for the meeting scheduled in the office at 9. Your eyes, half on the road, fleetingly catch the clock on the dashboard. ( Shit! Another mental scream! Just five minutes to go) And the traffic signal changes from amber to red just as you manage to screech to a halt. If you are lucky the driver behind you will not be in a hurry and your bumper is safe. Else...

Now transpose this onto a standard children's channel. A routine programme is about half an hour long. It has approximately 3-4 minute programme interrupted by atleast as long advert breaks. The adverts are usually recorded at a sound level a notch or two higher ( THEY ARE). this goes on for half an hour in fits and spurts. Then it starts all over again for the next programme. And then for the next.

And we cry attention deficit!

Paediatric psychologists and neurologists routinely quote the attention span to be 3-5 minute per age years, till it reaches a maximum of twenty to thirty minutes in adulthood. However, a standard University exam lasts for three hours. A standard movie can last from one and a half hours to 3 and a half hours ( Hollywood or Bollywood respectively). and most adults AND children are able to follow a plot they are enjoying. Attention, thus, may also be dependent upon the interest generated in a given activity.

We make children's programmes very bright and colourful, interesting and fun... and then break them into 4 minute segments interrupted by 3 minute capsules of adverts which are different in each break. We do not allow the attention span of our children to move beyond that of a one year old.

Is attention dfeficit hyperactivity disorder really a disorder?

Are we not contributing heavily to way our children are turning out?

It would do the parents well and the children a whole lot better to limit their screen time. Reduce background noise in your households and allow the attention to slowly grow... blossom... flourish.

Walter Benjamin described this New Age phenomenon as " reception in a state of distraction" Now it is time to move away from distraction and towards reception... unhindered.

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