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Resolved to concentrate

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New Year's resolutions? I have whittled it down to one: To concentrate better on the task at hand.

Our attention is too widely dispersed, and our addiction to electronic communication devices is completely to blame.

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Electronic devices kill people every day. My guess is that gadgets wreak more havoc on our roads than booze.

A head-on train wreck kills twenty-five in Los Angeles. The cause of the crash? The engineer was sending a text message on his cell phone.

Text messaging is more dangerous than merely talking on a cell phone because it occupies not only the hand and the mind, but the eyes as well.

Drivers also talk on cell phones, fiddle with their iPods, or listen to music so loudly that the entire neighborhood shakes.

But communication devices harm in other, more subtle ways.

Devices ruin conversation. Watch people, particularly young people, in a public place. I swear they are more interested in their cell phone than the person in front of their nose.

Electronic communication pulls us away from what we are doing. The devices stir up our minds when our minds could have been calm and concentrated.

During Christmas dinner over at the folks' place, Dad's computer beeped mid-meal. He got an email!

To his credit, Dad didn't get up from the table and run over to the computer to read the message. I am not sure somebody much younger could have stood the suspense.

Devices also ruin solitude. I don't mean the sort of solitude where you meditate on the meaning of life while staring at a marigold, either.

I mean the sort of solitude that allows one to concentrate upon a craft.

Any craft done right requires focused attention. In fact, any decent achievement requires concentration.

I watched two carpenters build my house. They came to work each day and concentrated upon tasks so small it would drive me nuts.

If I had an entire house to finish and some worthless little plank in the back of the closet that nobody would ever see again refused to fit, I would go bonkers and start throwing tools.

But no, the carpenters calmly concentrated on getting each cut right, each board to fit tight, and within a few months, there stood a house.

Not once did I see them talking on a cell phone while they measured a board. They had to concentrate upon every little jot and tittle.

With electronic devices, even older ones such as radio or television, concentration has become rare.

The loss of concentration is sad, because concentration is one of the keys to happiness.

Think about it: does anything feel better than getting completely lost in a job, doing it right, getting in a groove, getting things done?

Cutting firewood sometimes does that for me. By going deep in the woods and making a lot of noise, I eliminate most distractions.

If I concentrate and do it right, the chain will be tight and won't fall off. The gas tank will be full. The saw will be sharp and cut through oak like a hot knife through butter.

If I concentrate right, I will place my feet right before cutting so I don't fall over and slice off a toe.

If I concentrate right, no spring-loaded branches will kick back and knock me woozy.

If I concentrate right, in two hours there will be a nice stack of wood that won't fall over because I didn't stack it right.

Now, I rarely concentrate right long enough for all of the above to happen, but when I do, it is bliss. At the end of the day, I am tired, but it is a good tired.

But to attain such bliss in a modern world, you have to shut off the communication devices. You have to shut out the world, which requires more effort than ever before.

The sad fact is, anything that keeps you in constant touch with the world's problems, including those of your close relatives, destroys concentration and impedes creative achievement.

For that reason, this year I resolve to hit the off button more often.

(But if you want to get a hold of me while I am out cutting wood, I have the house phone on call-forwarding and the cell phone on vibrate so I should get your call even if I am sawing -- otherwise, I will get your message and call or email you back right away.)

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