As I’m wrestling with the wrapper, I’m thinking to myself, “Is it LÄRABAR’s plan for me not to eat this? What do I have to do to get it open? What’s wrong with my grip?” I started thinking about the machines that glue the wrappers together - maybe one of the people working the day my bar was wrapped hit the glue button really hard, maybe he had a bad day for some reason . . . and then I heard a voice in my ear. “Do you understand my meaning?” My hands temporarily paused.
“I’m not sure,” I said, trying to recover my place in the scratchy WhatsApp phone conversation I was having with someone who’s first language wasn’t English. “Do you understand my objection?” I countered, hoping to re-start the parts I had missed when my mind speculated on what made someone in an imaginary LÄRABAR factory hit the “glue button” too hard. My colleague on the phone, at the other end of the world, started again, and I internally and externally paused my over-glued wrapper saga. He was trying to explain to me why they needed more time to complete the project, and in truth, I was starting to understand what he was saying, until the car in front of me stopped short and I had to drop the LÄRABAR, grab the wheel and stop short myself.
“Ah . . Nigel . . ah, hold on for a second, I’m driving,” was all that I could say as I mentally collected myself. As he talked, I had been picturing the inside of the factory where my colleague was - not the bar factory with the angry, glue-button-stabbing employee - when I suddenly realized the car in front of me was not moving, and I was.
Who in modern society, does not have moments like this?
In the 1930’s, people were afraid that having radios in automobiles would be hazardous - the radios would distract drivers or lull them to sleep. This was a widely held belief, from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts Legislature to the NY Auto Club and the City of St. Louis. Obviously most of the laws didn’t pass and those that did were reversed or struck down quickly. Fast forward to today, and the level of distraction in vehicles is exponentially greater. A friend's car has videos and satellite television on the main screen, and it has an electronically controlled fresnel filter that obscures the picture from the driver when the transmission is in Drive, but it’s visible in Park. Never mind Elon Musk’s Tesla screens that are bigger than the televisions of yesteryear.
As much as I’d like to think that I’m usually mindful, present, and doing only what I’m doing at any given time, I have to admit that it’s a constant struggle. I’d like to blame the technology of the day, or perhaps our culture’s expectation of being always “on” and available, or some nebulous disconnected force that conspires to put me in situations where I must make this call while I drive. That’s right, if I don’t make this call right now, while I’m driving and hungry, my colleague might think I’m lazy, distracted, uninterested. Then, of course, the project will stall, it will be my fault, nothing will get finished, civilization will start to crumble, or as Bill Murray said in Ghostbusters, "Human Sacrifice, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.”
And from a productivity standpoint, multitasking is a myth, we can only concentrate on one thing at a time. So really we are just switching back and forth between things that we make compete for our attention. The best way to make the total elapsed time of two tasks take longer is to try to do them at the same time, despite the pressure of today’s culture and the self-imposed emotional urgency.
More significantly for us here, is this: what are we missing?
Did I miss the stress in my colleague’s voice? Did I miss meaning in his words, would I have asked him different questions, thought of other ways to solve our dilemma, or realized we had related problems? What did I miss seeing on my drive? I came closer to an accident than I would have had I been only driving, I probably didn’t think of the best solution to the project’s issues, and I was still hungry.
Maybe there are moments in all of our lives that are opportunities to stop, breathe, and focus on nothing else but what we are doing. Like right now.
For those of you curious about the glue button, I already did the research.
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