Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

The Year in Focus

in focus colorado townWill this be the year you get into focus?

Insights come in ordinary moments. At dinner recently, some friends were talking about their hundreds of internet bookmarks they never return to. We’d all formed the same habit of opening ten tabs of pages we “wanted to read” but eventually closed, unread. It’s a familiar moment to many of us: so much stuff, we don’t know which to choose. And we really burst out laughing when I said:

I think I have so many apps on my iPad, it’s making me a nervous wreck!

Flashbulb. We live in an era of abundance, for which we’re grateful for the opportunities of modern technology. Yet we’re increasingly stressed, overwhelmed, under-rested and distracted – as the endless array of attention-grabbers beep at us. As I write this very article, two tweets have popped across my screen; I try not to look at them, to keep writing, stay focused…. Um, what was I just saying?

We all must respond. To update. To upgrade. To announce. To express. To contribute. To engage. To exist in multiple virtual dimensions, and in none at all.

Even my camera plays this trick on me. Twenty years ago, my Nikon 2000 had a single focal point in the lens. Align the two halves and your image was in focus. Today, my D7000 has 39 focal points (I just popped open a browser tab to quick-search that fact, to make sure it was correct). That’s the paradox. Modern technology can focus on 39 things at once, but does it follow that so can we?

(Excuse me while I press save.)

I take my camera everywhere because it helps me slow down in an otherwise rushed schedule. I stop to look around me, when I know I should be thinking of other things: It’s a struggle. What time does my speech start? How long it will take to get to the airport? Can I upgrade my seat? Excuse me, a text has just arrived; Oh, sorry, that beep was from Facebook. I can’t keep track any more.

Damn, I just missed a shot.

Life is about taking the shots. Not all of them will be great. But you can’t take any shots if you’re not looking thru your lens. Patient and persistent and prepared to sieze the moment. Using all 39 points of your tools and skills to improve your chances of success. But ultimately it’s up to you to release the shutter.

Customarily, we begin new years with resolutions: We look ahead and imagine ourselves in the future. We then try to setup the conditions for success. We adjust our stops, speed and sensitivity. We make a few practice tries, a week at the gym, reading whole articles, clearing our desks every night. And then….. something happens. Things start ringing, flashing, whizzing into view. We return to the tempest, our view buffeted everywhere. We risk losing our focus.

Which makes me wonder: Do I really have too many apps on my iPad? If I collect them into folders, neatly organized, will I feel any less pressure to check them? What if I turn off the beeps? Somehow, the solution isn’t to organize the overwhelming. It’s to get into focus. To select and frame and concentrate. To choose the people, places and things that will contribute to big picture.

To compose the shots we want to take in the New Year.

That’s my resolution. How about you?

  • Great reminder Matthew to stop and smell the roses.

    Personally I’ve found that unplugging is one of the best ways to focus and actually accomplish more things in a shorter period of time. That internet and all it’s wonderful things also provides for many distractions that trap us into hours of “busy work”. When I travel abroad I only have a few hours daily to do what I need, often time less. Amazingly I get it all done!

    One of the best lessons in life and being an entrepreneur is that busy is different than being productive.

  • I completely agree, Michelle! I can get more done between “takeoff and landing” than eight hours in the office some days. But no matter where I go, my most creative moments come when I’m mono-tasking. This year, I just want less “noise” and more focus, and that starts by RE-focusing!
    Wishing you a great year!

  • Byron Underwood

    Thanks for the great words, Matthew. Personally, I work best without much distraction and am amazed at those you can read while music is playing or the television is on. My apps tend to get in the way when work is at hand. In fact, I was opening the mls when I saw Alec Hagerty’s post on Facebook about this article. Funny, huh?

  • Byron:

    Thanks for your comment. Sometimes it’s really cool to “discover” something from a notification or pop-up, like you finding this article when you were logging into MLS. However, long term, I find that I get less and less done with the more and more I have open. I remind myself that I’ll see the article, news, updates, etc., later. I even take regular “breaks” to check content – but when it’s time to get back to the work of work, I am closing apps and turning off beeps so I can stay focused.
    Glad you stopped by! Best wishes for 2012!
    – MF

  • Amen! Maintaining focus is such a challenge and committing to a direction can be overwhelming as the speed of change ever increases! Love the idea of slowing and looking through the lens for clarity and focus! Time to take a shot! 🙂