Do I have your attention?


Quietly observing baby, I’m struck by how intently he focuses on one small thing – his feet, a piece of coloured paper, a toothbrush. It’s a calm and devoted concentration.

I look at the mountain of toys we’ve already accumulated. There are some that buzz and bark, flash and sing. Yet the one that holds his attention the most is a Japanese paper animal suspended above his changing mat. It’s quite rudimentary in comparison but he gazes at it, talks to it, and reaches out to it again and again.

But such simple pleasures will soon face a bombardment. They’ll be laptops, mobiles, tellies and tablets buzzing with infinite possibilities. Soon he’ll be flitting between screens or flicking between channels on our imminent (yes, I’ve finally given in!) flatter, slimmer, wider telly.

There’s no arguing with the fact that technology brings worlds to life but what of quiet concentration? Without wanting to sound like a Luddite, my feeling is that all this screen skipping is making us a bit giddy. I mean isn’t downloading an app for meditation  or jetting off to a 10-day Buddhist boot camp in the Himalayas missing the point a bit?

This is what composer John Adams had to say on it this week:

“Kids…have this enormous font of information…the availability of everything.

Concomitantly with that is the break-up of the ability to concentrate…we go five minutes with something and then our mind tends to wander because there’s an infinite number of other distractions available…. I find that that’s the downside of life today.

…I look back to the primal experiences of my childhood…you know the first time I heard the Rite of Spring, the first time I saw Monet’s paintings, and it’s because those works were available…

I can get 120 different channels on my cable where I live in California and it’s all crap”

Is he right? Might too much choice see our children missing out on the best bits of culture?

Whatever you think, what’s clear to me is there’s much to learn (or perhaps I mean re-learn) from watching babies. The ability to focus is just one.


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