New submitter mirandakatz writes: Katie Hafner has spent the last 23 days in rehab. Not for alcoholism or gambling, but for a self-inflicted case of episodic partial attention thanks to her iPhone. On Backchannel, Hafner writes about the detrimental effect the constant stream of pings has had on her, and how her life has come to resemble a computer screen. “I sense a constant agitation when I’m doing something,” she says, “as if there is something else out there, beckoning — demanding — my attention. And nothing needs to be deferred.” “I blame electronics for my affliction,” writes Hafner, who says the devices in her life “teem with squirrels.” “If I pick up my iPhone to send a text, damned if I don’t get knocked off task within a couple of seconds by an alert about Trump’s latest tweet. And my guess is that if you have allowed your mind to be as tyrannized by the demands of your devices as I have, you too suffer to some degree from this condition.” Hafner goes on to describe her symptoms of “episodic partial attention” and provide potential fixes for it: “There are the obvious fixes. Address the electronics first: Silence the phone as well as all alerts on your computer, and you automatically banish two squirrels. But how do you shut down the micro-distractions that dangle everywhere in your physical world, their bushy gray tails twitching seductively? My therapy, of my own devising, consists of serial mono-tasking with a big dose of mindful intent, or intentional mindfulness — which is really just good, old-fashioned paying attention. At first, I took the tiniest of steps. I celebrated the buttoning of a blouse without stopping to apply the hand cream I spotted on the dresser as if I had gotten into Harvard. Each task I took on — however mundane — I had to first announce, quietly, to myself. I made myself vow that I would work on that task and only that task until it was finished. Like a stroke patient relearning how to move an arm, I told myself not that I was making the entire bed (too overwhelming), but that I had a series of steps to perform: first the top sheet, then the blankets, then the comforter, then the pillows. Emptying the dishwasher became my Waterloo. Putting dishes away takes time, and it’s tedious. Perhaps the greatest challenge lies in the fact that the job requires repeated kitchen crossings. There are squirrels everywhere, none more treacherous than the siren song that is my iPhone.”
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