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How did life get so complicated? It seems the most common phrases in our conversation now are “I’m really busy,” “I just don’t have time for that,” and “I’ll never catch up!” There is plenty of blame to go around. For one thing, “labor-saving” technology sometimes seems more burden than benefit. One of the most time-consuming aspects of moving into my house recently was getting all the electronic gizmos hooked up correctly, keeping yards of cords untangled, and then trying to hide them so the living room didn’t look like a production studio.
The relentless drive to improve productivity of the American worker is also a factor. In some cases, this is interpreted as getting as much work as possible from the fewest workers, causing constant stress and pressure for the lucky few to have jobs while others remain unemployed.
And let’s lay some blame on the myth of multi-tasking. While most of us occasionally engage in doing two or three things at once, research has shown that you can’t pay attention to more than one thing at a time. What your brain is really doing is rapidly switching back and forth. This is mentally exhausting and also means that you are not fully engaged and doing your best on any of them. Even as I am writing this, I just realized the radio was on. Although I may say it’s just for background noise, the fact is my mind is trying to listen to it even while I think I’m focusing on writing. Yes, I have turned it off now!
Are you old enough to remember when television was new? There were only three channels, and families gathered in front of the console to watch specific shows they liked. Now it is likely that the TV blares in the background, perhaps with one person (the one holding the remote) really paying attention—or aimlessly channel surfing—while the kids do their homework, a parent tries to balance the checkbook, or neighbors come to the door. And we wonder why we are over-stimulated and stressed out?
The flood of technology and information is not going to slow down; we have to seize this problem of modern society and solve it for ourselves, one individual at a time. For the next few days, try doing just one thing at a time, as often as possible. When you’re talking on the phone, just focus completely on that conversation (and not while driving!). When you’re reading the paper or watching TV, do just that, with your full concentration. I’m betting you will find it hard. But you also might find that your thinking is sharper, your body is more rested, and you are more effective at the one thing you’re doing. The world is evolving faster than our brains can keep up; let’s borrow the strategies of a simpler time to adapt to a more complex future.