We are our own unique generation. In fact, we are a generation that’s at the crux of changing technology and social patterns. But more than anything else, we are a generation distracted.
We are so distracted that musicians must accommodate our interest in song, dance and fashion simultaneously: Justin Bieber can’t just write love songs; he must also dance with Usher and sport Georgetown apparel every now and then.
We voluntarily distract ourselves. It is a challenge to get from one place to another without checking our phones. A day without Facebook must mean you’ve disabled it, because when you’re sick you check it even more. If, on the other hand, you’re out doing something extraordinary, you at least post a picture.
Why is this distraction bad? Because when it engages with our basic need to feel important, we become dependent on distraction, and this prevents us from becoming great.
Admit it: When someone “likes” something you do on Facebook, you feel good. It’s almost as if they are saying they like you. But that’s precisely it — people like what we do. That’s because our purposes shape who we are.
When somebody “likes” a photo of you meeting your senator, it’s because they like the idea that you are engaging in politics. The commercial about booking hotels captivates us because the phone app helps the tourist fulfill his purpose of quickly booking a hotel. We are interested in Justin Bieber because at such a young age he has achieved his goal of becoming a famous singer.
But we can’t maintain focus for very long. The tourist can’t just be booking a hotel; he also has to be skydiving. Justin Bieber can’t just be singing; he also needs to make movies. On Facebook we need to have pictures of meeting senators, partying at clubs and reading in cafes to display our diverse interests.
But how does this apply to our potential greatness? We may not be pop stars or skydivers (yet), but we approach society in just the way it approaches us: by embracing our distractions.
It seems we can’t just be students anymore; we also have to be interns and campus leaders. Starting to multitask early gives us permission to eliminate reliability in the future. Switching jobs and moving cities is normal; living abroad for a few years and re-orienting our careers is commonplace.
This mindset propels distraction to the point of eliminating the potential in good people to become great. Distraction becomes beneficial when it has direction. If you are interested and grow to truly believe in one goal — even if it starts as a daydream or mindless time killer — you can shape it into something meaningful.
Perhaps if we were interested in our distractions as part of a larger theme in our lives, we could live to help carry out the world’s greatest ideas rather than living to do work for utilitarian reasons.
Masha Goncharova is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service.