Time Confetti

Posted by Allen Rucker in Life After Paralysis on January 27, 2022 # Lifestyle

Allen smiling besides a pool. He is wearing a blue baseball cap and blue button up shirt. He is using a wheelchair. It is conventional wisdom by now that we live in The Age of Distraction. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of mental illness, will probably soon include Social Media Distractibility as a condition needing treatment, and millions of us would be eligible. Organizational psychologist Adam Grant recently noted in a Ted Talk that the average American checks his or her email seventy-four times a day. Time-wise, that probably pales in comparison to the endless, compulsive surfing of Facebook or Instagram or searching for goofy stuff on TikTok. Not to mention binging streaming series or round-the-clock televised sports events or becoming a cable news junkie and watching breathless reports on the same school shooting and post-shooting analysis 15 times a day. This is not the medical disorder, ADD. This is cultural ADD.

I suffer from this modern condition as much as the next guy and maybe more so because I sit in a wheelchair all day and spend a lot of time in front of a computer where a million distractions are a click away. I also spend a fair amount of time alone and don’t travel daily to an office or factory or school. Lots of people with disabilities either live alone or spend time alone. Statistics are hard to come by, but a recent article in Forbes magazine states: “Disabled people are more likely to be alone at least partially because of ableism and social neglect.”

It took me a good 45 minutes this morning before I began writing this piece. What was I doing? I can barely remember except looking at email, checking my bank account, getting stuck in random FB posts and memes for a good ten minutes, and checking the headlines and the most sensational stories from at least four on-line news sites. This just in from the Daily Beast: “Sex Offender Who Faked Death Turns Up in Scotland.” Hmm, that’s intriguing.

Adam Grant gave this whole phenomena a name. He calls it “time confetti.” We spend much of our time consuming little tidbits of irrelevant information that, like confetti, don’t add up to squat. You hear an email or a news-flash ding and you’re off. We talk about it, laugh about it, make New Year’s resolutions about it, and still do it. It’s addictive and hey, who’s it hurting?

In my mind, time confetti leads to another popular malady – learned helplessness. The more you absorb daily the latest COVID statistics – an ever-changing slew of numbers and worn-out health workers – or all the current, seemingly unsolvable fissures in American culture and politics, the more you throw up your hands in helpless resignation. One way to avoid this information overload is to ignore it altogether. “I can’t solve the homeless problem, but I can respond to “What Animal Are You?” on line.”

For most of human history, learned helplessness was the reality for people with paralysis and other disabilities. Being repeatedly told they were useless – FDR’s mother used that very word when she learned he was paralyzed – they simply adjusted to that state and either stayed in bed or otherwise isolated and out of view. If you are reading this, you probably don’t feel that way, but the culture at large still isn’t sending you the message that you are just like everyone else and equally as worthy. How many disabled people in institutions or hamstrung by poverty have internalized their helplessness?

All feelings of helplessness are amplified by the current malaise of distraction. How do you escape it? Clearly, I don’t have a snap answer, or I wouldn’t be impulsively checking my email or text messages or reading up on death-faking sex offenders all day. One simple approach is to practice the art of uninterrupted time. For a set period, find something that demands your full attention and engagement. Focus on anything active – breathing, drawing, cooking, singing, chess – and get good at it. No, watching every episode of “Succession” doesn’t count as uninterrupted time unless you are a billionaire and your avaricious in-laws are out to get you.

The two activities where I already practice uninterrupted time (mostly) are writing and reading. This time of concentration, Dr. Grant says, can be either productive or joyful. Or, hopefully both. Try it for a week and check back. Maybe you’ll never aimlessly scroll down the Facebook News Feed again.

Allen Rucker was born in Wichita Falls, Texas, raised in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, and has an MA in Communication from Stanford University, an MA in American Culture from the University of Michigan, and a BA in English from Washington University, St. Louis.

The National Paralysis Resource Center website is supported by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $8,700,000 with 100 percent funding by ACL/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACL/HHS, or the U.S. Government.