5.8
November 10, 2009

Multitasking makes you…what was I talking about?

Multi-tasking: the enemy of Mindfulness—and enjoying our Life?

Sorry, come again?

Biking to The Spot Climbing Gym, where I’m writing this now on a laptop with hundreds of open emails and 10 programs open, I passed a college girl, head down, walking across a street talking on her cell phone. I watched a big man in a big SUV nearly run a red light, stopping at the last second, never missing a beat on his phone call.

Studies show that drivers who talk on cell phones are four times more likely to be in a crash and drive just as erratically as people with an 0.08 percent blood-alcohol level...for more, click here.

And I talked to two friends on my cell phone, biking along one-handed, and half-brained.

According to The New Yorker, texting isn’t the only thing that’s dangerous for our and others’ safety (click here to watch live-filmed crash video). Sure, a plane crashed last year, and a text message from the pilot, to a friend, was recorded but 20 seconds before said crash. Sure, texting is proven to be horribly dangerous when driving.

But now it appears driving while on the cell phone is bad, too—about 20 million times worse than listening to music while driving.

It’s funny: there’s a basic logic of efficiency. I pulled up to a red light on my bike, dismounted and immediately a thought arose:

“I should check my phone for texts, calls, call someone!” “Fill the space, do something useful!”

Then, another warning thought arose, from my Buddhist training:

“Relax. Do nothing. Don’t fill the space—that’s bad for your brain, where your ideas and clear seeing and happiness all come from. Look around you. Enjoy your surroundings. Enjoy your life.” So I relaxed and, for a minute, watched the world go by. I was present with what was happening, you could say—or at least far more so than if I’d hopped on the phone.

Sure, you’re stuck on an LA freeway for a few hours, get that phone out. This isn’t meant to be extreme. But can we go for a walk to a bar or walk or dog or take the baby out in the stroller without checking our phones? Can we turn our phones off at night?

Sorry, anyway, what: where was I?

The inspiration for this article came from a recent Talk of the Town in The New Yorker. Excerpt:

The week before last, two Northwest pilots overshot Minneapolis, their destination, by a hundred and fifty miles, apparently oblivious of their instruments and their internal clocks, as well as of a barrage of increasingly desperate radio calls from air-traffic control. Afterward, they explained that they’d logged onto their personal laptop computers and become so engrossed—not in FarmVille or porn, or even good old off-line activity, such as a fistfight or a nap, but, rather, if you believe them, in the nuances of the airline’s new crew flight-scheduling procedure—that they’d essentially forgotten where they were and what they were supposed to be doing. Which was landing a plane. The equivalent for a text-messaging driver might be for him to veer off a turnpike into a cornfield and drive twenty miles through the corn rows—stalks thumping the hood, G.P.S. lady losing her mind—without once looking up from the task of typing a heartfelt response to a wireless provider’s auto-generated telemarketing text. That is, it’s almost unimaginable.

Around the same time, researchers at Western Washington University released the results of an experiment in what’s called “inattentional blindness”—a state of such absorption in an activity that you fail to notice really obvious stuff around you, like a guy in a gorilla suit or the state of Wisconsin. In this particular case, it was a clown on a unicycle, pedalling through an open square on campus. Of the test subjects who were walking by while talking on their cell phones, roughly three out of four failed to see the clown; of those who were merely walking, and not talking, the number was much lower. The conclusion was that when you are on the phone you are out to lunch—unless you are actually out to lunch, in which case if you’re on the phone you aren’t really at lunch anymore. You are, in your mind’s inattentionally blind eye, somewhere else, maybe plowing through a cornfield or ghost-planing over Green Bay. It may be that the only thing that can break a phone call’s inattentional spell is an e-mail, to judge by that conspicuous silence or keyboard tapping at the other end of the line. Anyway. What? Yes. Anyway. One study says that e-mail is more corrosive to your I.Q. than pot...

…read the rest here, it’s worth it.

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