Photographer Eric Pickersgill has put together a rather thought-provoking photo project where he took pictures of people doing everyday things but removed their “gadgets,” leaving images of people together but staring at their empty hands, as if they still had their smartphone or tablet. The title of the project is called “Removed,” which seems to have a double meaning: The devices are removed from the subjects just as they seem removed from each other even while occupying the same space. In this digital age, most of us have done something like this, being physically present but mentally removed. We used to avoid this sort of multitasking; how can we go back and get rid of these distractions?
- Remove the distractions. Put the phone away. Really. Don’t set it to vibrate; that will still catch both your eye and ear, as well as that of the person with you. Allow yourself to ignore it while you interact with someone else, whether talking or listening. The latter has become a bit of a lost art: We listen with half our attention while the other scans the latest text, tweet or Instagram photo. This goes for doing things alone, too, such as taking a walk or eating a meal. Why do either when you’re too distracted to notice the green of the grass or the taste of the food?
- Relish silence. Comedian Ellen Degeneres has a bit where she describes yoga as “paying for silence”… and then goes on to make a joke about having an old jingle from a commercial come into her head while trying to sit quietly in that yoga class. Of course our minds wander, but we too often feel the need to fill space with some sort of noise, such as music or TV. So instead of going to a museum and using one of those headsets that tells you all about the paintings (not that there’s anything wrong with learning), just look…and see what you think and feel. Silence is also a great way to examine our own feelings and revel in the moment.
- Focus on one thing at a time. Again, we pride ourselves in American culture on multitasking. As we enjoy family time, we take pictures and then immediately feel the need to post it to social media…and then keep checking to see who’s responded and “liked” it. We need to cultivate patience, which in turn cultivates self-confidence to connect with the present. This also allows us to relish the moments rather than letting them pass by. It’s really those times when you stop and allow yourself to engage in those moments that give you something to think about and remember.
So next time you have a conversation with someone or choose to get some alone time, put aside the distractions and really focus on what’s happening. Your phone will still be there when you check it later, and in the meantime, you will have truly engaged in the present and learned to appreciate it a little bit more.