November 28, 2016

Thump. Click. I head away from my room and into a new day of classes. Earbuds drumming away, I glance around. Some posters are on a wall. I dodge a student heading to a class of their own. Minutes later I arrive at my classroom. With a few moments to spare, my mind wanders to what I had seen during the morning commute. I cannot recall what the lone pedestrian was wearing, only vague details of height and build. The posters have blurred. I can't list the songs I have listened to, not even the one that just ended. My mind has a gap. I know I arrived at class on my longboard because it sits in the corner. I cannot recall the route I used to get to the chair I am sitting in.

Attention is an empty glass, waiting to be filled up by all that is perceived. Each bit of data is a drop in the glass. Information has found a way into every nook and cranny of human life. It permeates through the tablecloth of our lives like a spilt drink. It is a battle to keep a smidge of dry space to attend to the task at hand. Posters along a breezeway, texts flying into a phone, products flashing in the corner of a screen, each asking for a little time. The individual has to contend with various avenues to commit attention to.

Looking and seeing, while they share a very close literary meaning, have alternative significance in day to day life. Throughout a usual day in college, many faces are looked at, yet the observer sees only a fraction of them. Seeing requires attention; it is a deliberate act in which the observer analyzes what is being looked at. Looking is continuous; glance to the side, scan the billboard, gaze into the distance. Looking is passive, requires no energy, and returns little conscious information to the observer.

Reading and scanning, stopping and contemplating; the conscious effort is what cements memory and focuses retention. Intention is the key to action, the deliberate orientation toward a goal.

A glass, once full, can not be filled more. It has to be dumped out and filled again. Awareness is taxing. To perceive things happening around an individual, one requires an emptiness. Attention span is limit of one's ability to focus. Day to day, individuals multitask, listening to music while writing an essay, or doodling while listening. Each task is a drop in the glass. The portion of the glass filled by different actions is an individual's investment in those things. Full attention is a full glass, preventing one from focusing on another thing.

Life requires perception. To avoid being flat lined by a car or smacked with a badly thrown ball, an individual must commit attention to their surrounding. There is an expectation within global culture that individuals be aware. To know when to move from the left lane of traffic when a car approaches from behind. To know to not walk into others while texting. To be present in the moment is a requirement of human interaction.

Some may recall a time when they were able to complete multiple tasks in one sitting, presumably having multitasked their way to ultra productive nirvana. Multitasking is, at its core, a misunderstanding. While the individual may seem able to observe, process, and complete multiple complex activities simultaneously, they are separating the actions into distinct intervals. While one may be listening to music while their fingers tap away at the keys, they are not hearing the melody. When a song one particularly enjoy comes up in the playlist, their attention is moved, and now they hear the music, but their fingers have stopped moving.

Filling a glass with too many different liquids creates a distasteful drink. Attention behaves in the same way. Attempting to perceive too many individual interests result in muddling the drink, while on the other hand selecting a few synergistic flavors results in a delicious beverage, and well spent time.

It happened too fast to be perceived, while I had all the time in the world to prevent it. The longboard stopped, and I kept going, down to the cement. Unfortunately I could not skate over a hose like the bicycle that had glided right over it. Leading up to my humiliation I had placed my attention in places it did not belong. Skipping songs, putting on my glasses, kicking the ground. Everything but looking where I was going. “The person in front of me made it, I should have also.” The black hose snaked across the walkway, starkly contrasted against the white cement. Only a blind man could have missed it. The glass was filled to the brim with orange juice, when it should have had lemonade.

Things previously experienced have already been deconstructed. Humans drink water daily to survive, not for the taste. The act of consuming the essential fluid has become second nature. Recall how much water the average person drinks in a day, things people do in repetition become insignificant, no longer requiring our attention. An individual may type a paper without watching their hands, possibly even with their eyes closed. Their mind has been ingrained through repetition with the ability to type without conscious effort. Tasks we do for long durations often become muscle memory. This is why the average college student can complete the aforementioned feat. New tasks require focused attention; to complete a new math problem previously unattempted fills the glass entirely.

Perception extends beyond distraction and rote tasks. We must keep space within the glass for the unexpected, leaving room to add in a little more when necessary. A glass filled to the brim is begging to be spilt.

Soda that has been sitting in the glass for too long becomes flat. The ice melts, watering down what is inside. Continuous attention to a single subject is detrimental to the quality of the product, as well as the welfare of the craftsperson. While attention is a vital resource to be spent on crucial things, it is also a luxury to be enjoyed, preserving a portion of the glass for flavoring and fizz. Constant attention can be tiring. Let the mind wander, empty the glass, so that it can be filled again at another time.

Attention, perception, and quite a bit of glassware: there is simply too much going on every instant for any individual to process it all. The mind does a decent job of picking out key details, but often they are necessary facts, not enjoyable bits of information: “That is a ditch, I should avoid it,” not “that view is amazing,” or “that man's hat is funny.” Does one watch where they are stepping or let their feet handle the walking and look around? An individual will walk over two hundred million steps in their lifetime; one's feet know where they are going.

Being conscious of an individual's surroundings, picking out what is important, instead of haphazardly consuming it all will keep one’s glass full of liquid an individual's wishes to drink.

An individual is faced with a predicament when considering their empty glass. The utility of the glass is its ability to carry liquid. In the same vein, attention is only useful when committed to a task. It is the diligent rationing of attention that dictates one's ability to not only perceive the world, but be productive in it. However, productivity alone is boring, a means to an end without much of a journey. Attention well spent can improve day to day life. By being perceptive, an individual notices the little things, hears the comments of others, and is more in tune with the world.

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