Technically Distracted

by Dr. Thor Bergersen

While watching “Morning Joe” this morning, I was fascinated by a segment called “30 under 30,” featuring the latest issue of Forbes magazine’s list of the thirty most successful people under age thirty. Most were very wealthy, of course, and most made their fortunes in high tech or web based concepts.

For example, Alexis Ohanian, the 29 year old co-founder of Reddit, a sort of public web bulletin board, stumbled upon the idea just after graduating from college. Matt Mullenweg, 28, created WordPress, a widely used blogging platform, at the age of 19 while still in college. Josh Miller, 22, came up with Branch, another way to publish ideas, open them up to discussion, and get feedback from friends. Ruzwana Bashir, 29, has created a vacation daily activity planner website after obtaining significant financial backing.

After getting over my initial shock at how young these people were, I considered that many people with ADHD tell me that their number one distraction is the Internet. No matter where they are, the web is there for them. On their phones, home and work computers, tablets, game systems and for some people their televisions, infinite rabbit holes await. A twinge of interest, a hint of curiosity, a tweak of consciousness is sufficient enticement to dive, or more accurately be sucked, in.

Speaking of being sucked in, I came upon an amusing item on Reddit the other day that epitomized a culture characterized by distraction. The first line read, “How we thought the zombie apocalypse would look,” beneath which was an image of stereotypical zombies, arms stretched out, decayed flesh, dead eyed and mindless. The next line said, “How the zombie apocalypse actually looks.” Scrolling down, there was a photo of several people in their 20’s, casually dressed, leaning up against a brick wall, staring down at their phones. I often find myself in a similar situation while waiting for my sandwich at Panera.

Of course, the web is useful for a lot of things. My teenage sons roll their eyes and sigh when I tell them I started accessing a rudimentary version of the Internet in medical school, obtaining my first cell phone around the same time. I lived 23 years without the web and wireless communication! How did I do it? I suppose I just didn’t know about a lot of stuff, and ignorance is bliss.

With such easy access to information, communication and feedback, there are no longer any barriers to entering the self-publication blogosphere. Anyone can publish any idea at any time in several places at once. Like synapses in the brain, there are seemingly infinite connections for posting, storing and retrieving information. The ways in which these connections are filtered, manipulated and packaged are evolving daily, with every method of interaction a potential patent and subsequent goldmine.

ADHD results not only in the potential for distraction on the web, it also includes the ability to hyper-focus. When bits of information coalesce in the psyche and pique our interest, the possibility of digging deep, magnifying the dots while connecting them to the big picture, then pulling something everyone doesn’t yet know they absolutely need out of the thick soup of web matter becomes real. Panning for information manipulation gold requires hyper-focus.

The key to successfully using the superpower of hyper-focus is the simultaneous cultivation of the bird’s eye view, the big picture, how it all fits together. Stepping back, taking a deep breath, and seeing the forest for the trees is the hard part. Those of you with this rare skill can create something out of nothing, make the useless useful, make lives easier and give the world something it doesn’t know it needs – yet. I lived without the web for 23 years, but I can’t imagine a world without it.