Wednesday, April 29, 2009

William Henry Fox Talbot

I’ve been reading the biography of William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot was one of the inventors of photography and the prime proponent of the negative/positive process. He was an Englishman who lived between 1800 and 1870. During that time he had many accomplishments. Besides being a wealthy land owner and Member of Parliament, he invented the halftone process and published the first book illustrated with photographs. He was also a noted mathematician.

The biographer noted, almost in passing, at how much some people of that era were able to accomplish, especially considering that they lacked many things considered essential to modern society.

It seems that part of the answer is that modern society has reduced our ability to focus our attention on any one thing for very long. Over the years our attention span has been reduced. Personally, I have noticed in the past few years, I become restless after even a few minutes of concentration. I am always checking my email, getting up for a cup of coffee, or discovering a mindless task that needs to be done. Being able to sit down and work on a single task for hours at a time has become very difficult.

Talbot didn’t have email to check every few minutes or a telephone to interrupt his thoughts. He didn’t spend his evenings watching television. He didn’t have to maintain his Facebook, MySpace, or LinkedIn accounts. I am pretty certain that he didn’t follow anybody’s “tweets.” Times were slower, which meant he could spend hours, or days, working on complicated problems without distraction.

Today being able to multi-task is considered an asset. Multi-tasking really means not giving 100% attention to anything. Most of us are trying to do too many things and running in too many directions to give much attention to any one thing.

A few years ago I decided to define myself as a photographer, musician, and writer. What that really means is that I am not a gardener, golfer, or woodworker. By limiting my activities, I believe I have the ability to achieve more in a few specific areas.

Colossians 3:23 says, “Whatever you do, work at with all your heart, as working for the Lord not men.” To me, heartily or “with all your heart” means to give it all you’ve got. Don’t be distracted.

I understand that the Japanese have a word “muda” which generally means unproductive or simply, a waste of time. Of course, sometimes we don’t know when we are wasting time. Is spending an afternoon on the golf course a waste of time? What if it was with an important client? What if you were a golf pro and a few more hours of practice would mean more money in your pocket?

Playing music might be a waste of time for some people, but since God gave me a passion for music, not practicing would be disobedient, and probably seen by God as squandering a gift. Figuring out who were are, how God made us, and what our purpose in life is, goes a long way in helping see the best use of our time.