Fragmentation

It’s been almost three months since the last post. I have been updating on Twitter and Weibo, on all kinds of topics and yet seriously fragmented. Fragmentation seems to be the major trend and concern in today’s world; from content generation to content consumption, from software development to offline education, from organization management to daily grocery, we all face the overwhelming urge and often inevitable necessity of fragmentation: breaking a grand, higher order mission into much smaller, easier tasks, which can be accomplished by utilizing our already fragmented time slots, and yet most of time stop us from seeing the actual mission, making us focus on short term benefits and instant gratification.

Fragmentation has its value in this fast-paced, information-overloaded era, but it is an enemy of pleasant reading experience. I started reading Dan Brown’s new novel, Inferno, on 14th May, and finished it on 25th May. If I were to read it during a holiday without any work to do, I would have finished it in at most 3 days, and because of the continuous, uninterrupted reading, I would have immersed myself in the book more deeply and enjoyed the flow of the events with more anticipation and fulfilment. However, in reality, I finished the book in 12 days, with some days in between without reading at all. As a result, the flow of the events did not seem intact, and I needed every time to re-read the previous page to get myself reconnected with the story. I could not absorb myself completely in the story, like I did when reading Angels and Demons. I still enjoyed the book, but it would have been so much better without the fragmented reading process.

Not just reading; fragmentation affects my work as well. A very obvious example is the setting of examination papers. I can set a complete set of examination paper of high quality, with all formatting perfectly done, in just three or four hours without any interruption. However, ‘three or four hours without any interruption’ is more and more a luxury, partly because of my never-ending official duty and flooding of emails, partly because of my inability to resist distractions from my phone and my web browser. The time taken to set a paper is not simply ‘three or four hours’ plus ‘the time spent on the web and other distractions’; it is a typical ‘1+1>2’ situation. Besides a longer process, the quality also drops, even if given longer time to finish. In another words, fragmentation reduces efficiency and effectiveness.

To counter the negative effects of fragmentation, schools organize intensive classes, some companies (like Facebook) hold coding and design days, cinemas hold movie marathons, and some text processors (like iA Writer and Microsoft Word for Mac) provide full screen, distraction free environment. Even WordPress editor comes with a ‘distraction free writing mode’, in which I am writing this post.