Shannon Bardwell: Driving to distraction

October 8, 2011 11:42:00 PM

Shannon Bardwell - [email protected]


Flipping to the magazine article on multitasking, my suspicions were confirmed: We can't multitask at all; we are simply interrupting ourselves multiple times during any given task. The habit should be called "switch-tasking." 


Arguably, some people appear to do it better than others. But, have you ever tried to carry on a conversation with a man watching the Red Sox in the bottom of the 9th -- while Jonathan Paplebon, the closer, is pitching, the tying run on third pressing hard for home, and the Yankee's best hitter steps to the plate -- and just at your crucial point about the checker at the grocery store, said man blurts out, "Another save for Paplebon!"? 


Trust me, something got bleeped out along the way. 


I've watched young people studying, texting, iPODing, Facebooking, eating and watching TV, all at once. True, some people like background noise, and silence makes them uncomfortable, but that much input cannot be processed all at once. One university study said productivity is reduced; we become unable to connect with people and form a distinction between right and wrong. (I'm not sure how that works.)  


Many multitaskers become highly distracted and unable to filter out irrelevant information. "All circuits are busy. Please try again." 


I just finished a phone call where the multitasker simultaneously talked on the phone with me, while conversing with others. I wondered if all conversations were left lacking.  


The author of the multitasking article prided herself on being able to do everything at once; you know, like eating, listening to the kid's spelling words and conversation, answering text and reading her "to do" list while driving, and on and on. One day she realized she wasn't doing everything well. The fact was, she was barely getting things done at all and wearing herself out in the process. So she decided to take a fast from multitasking. Only one task at a time, and spaces for silence. At first she failed; multitasking was a habit.  


She tried again. She took her daughter to lunch. When she answered her phone during the mother-daughter conversation, her daughter said, "Mom, I thought you weren't supposed to do that. You're supposed to be listening to me." 


Mom tried again. 


In the eighth grade I asked Mary Lou Holloway how she studied, because Mary Lou always made straight A's. She said that for a whole week she focused on the test; she didn't listen to anything at all -- no Beatles music, no Beach Boys, no multitasking. I decided to do the same. I went straight home and turned off my transistor radio and put my eight-track in the closet. 


Wonder what would happen if we all took an hour to share an uninterrupted lunch or a lazy walk with a child, a friend, a spouse, perhaps a parent -- and listened ... really listened. 


"Go placidly amid the noise and haste and remember what peace there may be in silence." 


From Desiderata, by Max Ehrmann 


Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie. Her email is [email protected]

Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.