Distractability

Lately I’ve been quite distractable. I partly blame a rescaled sense of urgency from what I tried (and, surprisingly, succeeded) to take on last semester, I partly blame my every-other day class schedule. The fact of the matter is, the problem is nothing new; because I am curious, I tend to find the things I am exposed to interesting, and, as a result, follow up on them far more than I really have time for.
Eugen Roth (1897-1976) wrote a wonderful passage on this problem in Ein Mensch(1935) “Das Hilfsbuch” (titles tentative; my German is weak, in German because it is poetry; English follows):

Ein Mensch, nichts wissend von “Mormone”
Schaut deshalb nach im Lexikone
Und hätt´ es dort auch rasch gefunden –
Jedoch er weiß, nach drei, vier Stunden
Von den Mormonen keine Silbe –
Dafür fast alles von der Milbe,
Von Missisippi, Mohr und Maus:
Im ganzen “M” kennt er sich aus.
Auch was ihn sonst gekümmert nie,
Physik zum Beispiel und Chemin,
Liest er jetzt nach, es fesselt ihn:
Was ist das: Monochloramin?
“Such unter Hydrazin”, steht da.
Schon greift der Mensch zum Bande “H”
Und schlägt so eine neue Brücke
Zu ungeahntem Wissensglücke.
Jäh fällt ihm ein bei den Hormonen
Er sucht ja eigentlich: Mormonen!
Er blättert müd und überwacht:
Mann, Morpheus, Mohn und Mitternacht …
Hätt´ weiter noch geschmökert gern,
Kam bloß noch bis zum Morgenstern
Und da verneigte er sich tieg
Noch vor dem Dichter – und – entschlief.

English (tweaked machine translation):

A man, not knowing about mormon,
looks into an encyclopedia,
and would have found it there pretty soon –
but after three, four hours he knows
not a syllable about the Mormons,
but nearly everything about the Mite,
about Mississippi, Blackamoor and Mouse:
He knows about the whole “M”.
Even something he never cared about,
for instance Physics or Chemistry,
now he reads about it, and it absorbs him:
What’s that: Monochloramine?
“See also Hydracine” stands there.
The man is already grabbing for Volume “H”,
and so he creates a new bridge
to undreamt Happiness of Knowledge.
But by the “Hormones”, he remembers:
He was looking for the “Mormons”!
He shuffles the page, tired and overwaked:
Man, Morpheus, Poppy Seed, Midnight…
He would have liked to read on,
arrived only at the Morning Star,
and bowed deep
before the Poet – and – died.

I have heard this referred to as the “Wikipedia Problem” but clearly it is much, much older and more universal than that.

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