Divided Days in the Life
Covering distance is something we do instinctively – so much so, that we don’t even realize we’re doing it. And just as our awareness is uneven, closing the gaps doesn’t happen consistently across time and space, comprehension and action. Indeed, shortening one type of distance may actually increase other kinds of separation in our experience. We may use cheat codes to win a video game – a great way to reduce the Temporal Distance involved in finishing the game, as well as simulating greater comprehension. But while we may increase our score more quickly, we’re avoiding learning the intricate steps required to do it on our own. We save time, but we we certainly don’t learn much that will make us more proficient (i.e., capable of closing Conceptual Gaps) in the future. We may be no smarter after “winning” the game, than when we started. At other times we may try to reduce Conceptual Separation, and end up extending Temporal Distance. In the process of understanding something better (i.e., shortening the distance to knowing), you can end up complicating matters and making it even harder to get things done.
For example, say you want to learn your way around the back roads of the new area you just moved to. First you need to invest a fair amount of mental activity and time in gathering information… parsing it… and then figuring out how it all fits together. You take extra time to drive around the area, exploring different routes and finding the ones that are least busy. You learn as you go, closing Conceptual Gaps in the process, but knowing too much about your optional routes can make it harder for you to quickly decide whether to turn right or left, whether to head north or south. And when you get caught up in a traffic jam on the interstate, other drivers who know absolutely nothing about an area who decide to just sit tight, may actually get where they’re going faster than you, as you take a “quick” countryside detour that takes 20 minutes to travel, versus the 12-minute wait on the highway.
In some ways, we have considerably reduced the Temporal Distance in our lives, especially with our email, telephone, texting, and video chat. We can now communicate instantaneously with each other – individually and collectively. Instead of looking up a number in a phone book, we can tap a button on smart phone and not only pull up a number but also dial it. No question needs to go unanswered for more than a few minutes, as your smartphone is always at the ready, connecting you to an ever-widening network of information sources.
But as we speed things up, we often end up slowing things down even more, adding distance between ourselves and our ultimate goal(s) without ever realizing it – and frustrating ourselves in the process. One of the ways we increase our Temporal Distance is by not paying attention. We can be so distracted by the shiny objects on our smartphone screens that we’re blinded to everything else, and it takes us a while to refocus on what we should be doing.
Just as data bottlenecks slow down online networks, the sheer glut of information inundating our sensory networks can actually keep us from sensing what else is there. As you’re sitting with your lover in a brand new park in an unfamiliar area, savoring the taste of your picnic lunch, fretting over your damp shoes, and surveying the sheep on the hill in the distance, you may not have enough attentional resources left over to notice the gathering clouds overhead… or the sudden silence that’s replaced the yells and calls of competing sports teams. We may have so much stimuli coming at us all at once, we can’t process it simultaneously.