The Gift of Focus

Wiping out on the Big Red Balls
I dare you to watch Wipeout and not laugh. Go ahead and try it.

Ryan loves the ABC show Wipeout. I don’t blame him. I love the show too. It’s impossible to not laugh at the contestants as they take spills throughout the course, and the cornball, over-the-top commentary from John Anderson and John Henson is hilarious.

Like everything with Ryan, there are some unique aspects to the way he loves the show. If it’s on live, he will watch from start to finish, but if he’s watching on DVR, he always watches the final round (the “wipeout zone”) first. Which is kind of like reading the last chapter of a mystery novel before the rest of the book.

As with all of Ryan’s interests, this one is intense. If he’s watching Wipeout, there’s no room for anything else. Another thing — if you’re in the room with Ryan while he’s watching Wipeout, you better love it too.

I’ve seen this before with other interests of Ryan’s. He wants everyone to engage with them at the same level of intensity he does. Which is, of course, impossible for most people but that doesn’t stop Ryan from trying. I am reminded of the time he wanted to go door-to-door in our neighborhood selling copies of his sports magazine.

Riley and I received a lesson in Ryan’s singular focus last night. Thursday night is when new episodes of Wipeout première, which qualifies as an event in our house. We all gathered in the living room to watch. But I was soon distracted, checking my phone, even playing a game on it during commercial breaks. Riley, whose interest in the show is much more casual than her brother’s, joined me and soon we were playing a game head-to-head on our devices.

Ryan doesn’t do casual.

Ryan doesn’t multitask.

It bothered him, because, again, he wants everyone to love his interests with the same intensity he does. Eventually recognizing this (and with some prodding from Veronica) I put away my phone in time to watch the wipeout zone with him.

Afterwards, I thought about it. I felt bad for not fully participating in what had been a family activity. But beyond that, I thought about our always-on, always-connected, modern world, and Ryan’s place in it. I am rarely out of arm’s reach from my phone. If I get an email alert, I rarely allow more than a few minutes to go by before checking it. Part of that is the nature of my work, but part of it is a habit an addiction.

Riley is already a wired kid. She regularly texts and FaceTimes with large groups of friends and is always begging for the latest app. Her iPod Touch is never far from her reach.
Ryan has no interest in such things. He doesn’t have a phone and doesn’t want one. He has an iPad, but only uses it to communicate with others out of necessity (and occasionally humor).

Ryan will, of course, have to join the connected revolution at some point. It’s simply how people communicate today. But part of me hopes he never loses his singular focus on the things he loves.
I’m an expert at multitasking. And I’m not sure at all that’s a good thing. I could benefit, in both work and personal lives, from the ability to sit and concentrate on a single activity for an extended period. As juggling five things at once became my default mode of operation, I seem to have lost that ability over time.

I hope Ryan never does.


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