ARMSTRONG: Obtaining focus in midst of distractions


Opinions Column: The Digital Dilemma


To be deeply immersed in playing an instrument, or reading a book, or performing extensive math calculations is a one of a kind experience: The mind starts churning as fast as a train and new bridges are created in it. While growing up, that deep-learning thinking pattern is what I was used to. And it was normal. Sure, in the seventh grade I played with my friends' MySpace accounts because my mom wouldn’t let me have my own, but I can count on my hands the number of times I went on their pages. It was not until I was on a social network for myself, a "gift" during eighth grade, that my eyes and mind were exposed to this foreign, exciting new internet interface (one of many). And from that moment forward, my deep thinking slowly became shallow, school engagements transformed into reluctant obligations and free, creative time became mind-numbing, endless scrolling. The pursuit of answers became too easy, and I admired many lives behind my inaugural iPhone 4 screen. The exquisite art of deep focus and understanding deteriorates the more we fill our time with many nonphysical entities, which technology has readily and dangerously provided.

To ponder deep focus and understanding is great, but what is it really? I’m not a neuroscientist, but according to accredited scholarly articles, there are five types of brain wave frequencies that are associated with various characteristics. Ideally, an individual would have a healthy, functioning brain exuding waves in an equal fashion, though due to stimuli and circumstances, one or two waves may overpower the others. The wave most frequently associated with deep focus and understanding is the beta wave. The beta wave, optimally, allows us to focus, to be alert and active. If there is a lack of beta waves, results range from Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to poor cognition. Too much beta results in over-thinking and worrying. Alongside beta is alpha, responsible for deep relaxation, theta for creativity, delta for deep sleep and natural healing and gamma, also heavily associated with higher level cognitive activity, learning, perception and REM (rapid eye movement) sleep. Not only has there been research done to identify this brain activity, but also research in how to increase certain brain waves that few people are aware of. Technology has tremendously helped us with medical advances and advances in many other fields, for the minority of society who know how to utilize these engineered solutions. However, the majority of society isn’t necessarily contributing to those useful advancements, but instead are being distracted by a myriad of nonessential information. Because advertisements are unavoidable and so much of life is being replaced online, the need to utilize the beta waves in ways humans have before has significantly decreased. The instant answer age is great, but what is it doing exactly?

Instant gratification has plagued many of the members of the millennial generation, which has decreased our abilities to dedicate precious time and attention to tasks that will not only add value to our lives but will deepen our thinking patterns and ultimately affect the way our lives pan out. For centuries and centuries humans have been living and breathing, not by means of the technology we cling to daily, but by ferociously and relentlessly chasing after goals with all they had: Their hands, feet and minds. The times have changed rapidly in the span of time I’ve been alive, in 21 short years, and if we think of the trajectory of our lives, has the addition of Google and Facebook really propelled us, the majority of people, forward?

What we are called to do as humans is to continuously move forward, and to take heed of the information we have garnered over the years. Constant use of phones and social media has been related to lack of ability to concentrate. For children under the age of 2, television provides no educational benefits and it actually takes away opportunities for them to do things that actually develop their brain, such as playing, speaking in conversation, thinking analytically and being imaginative. Children and adults, all humans, learn a great deal more efficiently from real-life, physical interaction: With people and objects, rather than watching a myriad of videos on YouTube and Netflix. Not only can we be spending our time better, but we can be developing our brain activity (increasing our beta and gamma waves) in ways that our ancestors have. If you ponder the true intrinsic value that deep focus and understanding alone has, the potential deep focus has to alter the trajectory of your life.

Yazmin Armstrong is a School of Engineering junior majoring in Chemical and Biochemical Engineering. Her column, "The Digital Dilemma," runs on alternate Thursdays.


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Yazmin Armstrong

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