Too focused on fear of multitasking?

By Anne Collier

“A flighty mind may be going somewhere,” writes Hanif Kureishi – a playwright, screenwriter, filmmaker, novelist, and short-story writer – in the New York Times. In a very personal account of a “wretched [five-year] period” at the bottom of his class in a suburban-London secondary school, he writes about how some of us really need distraction, and how can we parents really tell (as his couldn’t when he was a teenager) whether their children’s “lack of focus” is good or bad? “For me, now, things do get done; books are finished, and other projects are started that are also finished. They take the time they take, and the breaks are as important as the continuities.” Referring back to his school days, Kureishi continues, “only a fool would think that someone should be able to bear boredom and frustration for long hours at a time and that this would be an achievement.” So consider this, fellow parents, amid all the angst about today’s digital multitasking:

“It is incontrovertible that sometimes things get done better when you’re doing something else. If you’re writing and you get stuck, and you then make tea, while waiting for the kettle to boil the chances are good ideas will occur to you. Seeing that a sentence has to have a particular shape can’t be forced; you have to wait for your own judgment to inform you, and it usually does, in time. Some interruptions are worth having if they create a space for something to work in the fertile unconscious. Indeed, some distractions are more than useful; they might be more like realizations and can be as informative and multilayered as dreams. They might be where the excitement is…. If the Ritalin boy prefers obedience to creativity, he may be sacrificing his best interests in a way that might infuriate him later… I might have been depressed as a teenager, but I wasn’t beyond enjoying some beautiful distractions.” Might we consider that, if we’re collectively a little less focused on focus, we’ll be giving our children a little more room to breathe – a bit more space to pursue their own interests, which might be a little different from ours or ours for them?

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