Background motivation or distraction?

This is a post for the Blaugust 2021 blogging event, see the linked post for more info!

As we come towards the end of Blaugust 2021’s ‘staying motivated’ week, I’ve just read Thyanel’s post about musical motivation. It is certainly true for me, as Thyanel writes, that “the right background music can psych me up and keep me focused on whatever it is I’m doing”. If I’m doing blogging, writing or fairly involved work, I often set YouTube to a random playlist and just have that semi-quietly in the background.

The topic overlaps with a few related topics specifically for my situation and way of doing things. I often have music in another language on in the background, not so much because I expect to learn much from passively listening to it, but because I enjoy it. YouTube has endless playlists that you can search for, Amazon devices with Alexa (or other equivalents) can also supply randomised music by genre or era in this way. It has made my large collection of CDs largely redundant as streaming music gives more variety: including the chance of the odd surprise discovery of something new. Plus, it avoids having to change physical discs as well.

The other aspect to this can be more negative than positive. I’ve become used to also playing randomly suggested content on YouTube on my second screen. It’s something I almost do automatically when gaming, and for some games I find it an unacceptable distraction. If I’m doing a lazy session of harvesting /crafting in Lord of the Rings Online or daily quests in Everquest 2 then it works really well. Such activities do not require my full attention, and having something on the other screen helps to avoid any potential for boredom creeping in.

The danger is that I assume this works as well, or is even needed while questing or levelling. I’ve definitely found myself distracted while questing in Lord of the Rings Online in Mordor on my main. That feeling when you suddenly realise you’ve lost the plot thread you were following, or need to reread the long quest text because something interesting on the video distracted you subconsciously. This has also been a realisation when playing Bless Unleashed recently, I really need to focus on the game since it is all brand-new to me and the story requires some focus to follow – it is an all new world with unfamiliar place and people names so I can’t half-read quest text and expect to have even a vague clue of what is happening a few quests later. Not all MMORPG activities are equal when it comes to focus.

Mostly these background videos have been random D&D related ‘advice’ videos or Sci-Fi ‘lore’ videos. Similar to TVTropes, the hundreds of content creators who produce these videos give an seemingly endless array of “dissect the franchise” style videos. I’ve been on a bit of a Star Wars universe (e.g. Thor Skywalker, Geetsly’s) binge of late, but I’ve also watched a good number of Dune-related videos and a host of TTRPG-related channels before that.

Unlike YouTube music playlists, these videos are interesting enough to distract me. Although I’ve caught myself trying to use them as background listening in the same way, they certainly do not function as well as music for me. The slideshow of stills from movies, books and comics are eye-catching, the dialogue is usually complex enough and interesting enough to pull me out of what I am doing – or it doesn’t and when I tune back into the video I realise I’ve missed a chunk and have to rewind it. Either way it harms my productivity instead of supporting it.

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