why i’m turning my tv off

i have heard over and over that my generation (and certainly the ones behind it) are suffering from much shorter attention spans due to the overstimulating presence of technology in our lives. my general reaction to such claims includes a scoff, an eye roll, followed quickly by my turning back to the eight tasks i am currently attempting to manage. for some reason (i can’t remember what it is right now, ironically), i recently decided to take inventory of my own burgeoning ADD issues. here are some frightening facts:

-i have approximately 15 tabs open on my browser at any given time.
-though we cut down the number of televisions in our household to only one during our recent move, chances are that at any given time of day or night, it’s on, even if one of us is not in the same room to watch it.

-when the tv is not on, i frequently transport my laptop into the kitchen with a disk of simpsons dvd’s to accompany me while i bake, cook, do dishes or clean.

-when i am sitting in front of the television to “watch a show,” i almost always have my laptop with me so that i can also read blogs, write my blog, chat online or cruise twitter.

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qm-i justify all this behavior by telling myself that i am a good multi-tasker and that practice makes perfect.

after doing a little bit of research, however, i found that my rationale might not quite be correct. i also discovered that it takes me longer to do research when i stop reading the articles to pet penny or look at pinterest or get a snack, make some tea and talk to dan. shocking, isn’t it ? but i digress.

this article from scientific american points out that not only can noise in the background break your concentration, but it can also cause added stress as your body tries to multitask (and no one needs any extra cortisol coursing through his or her body).

another point of view comes from our moderately bright friends at harvard, who tell us that multitasking can lead to poor memory retention of the task at hand, all the while stifling creativity and problem-solving abilities.

one excellent summary on the subject from about.com points out a few things:

1. there are different kinds of multitasking (doing more than one thing at a time, rapidly switching back and forth between tasks, etc.)
2. engaging in the behaviors described above might not be detrimental if done only a few times, but by making it a habit to multitask in all areas of life and doing it constantly throughout each day, the time lost really starts to add up.
3. there are some tasks that it is more important to focus on than others (it gives an example of being able to fold laundry while watching television because no one’s life is at stake and the chances of forgetting how to fold laundry because a re-run of Friends is on are slim to none).

so, what is the moral of the story? what was the startling realizatIon?

sometimes i just need to turn the television off!

as much of a habit it has become to have that thing on all the time, it has become a new goal of mine to watch it and have it on a lot less frequently. i am going to increase my awareness about my propensity to multitask and make a more concerted effort to do one thing at a time, especially when the quality of the finished product is at stake. at work, it means making my to do list writing a priority, and then scheduling each task for a specific time slot, then STICKING to it, to make sure things get done, but are accomplished correctly.

overall, this is really a great reminder about awareness and not going through life “with the tv on” so to speak. not watching the simpsons while i do dishes may not save anyone’s life, but it would probably give me an opportunity to engage in more “me time” and personal reflection (great article about that here from daily cup of yoga), which i constantly feel cheated out of. OR if i am going to multitask, perhaps i could be more mindful about my second stimulus. homer is a hoot, but maybe i have more to gain from a podcast, or listening to the news. time and freedom are both precious commodoties that come at a premium these days. this is just one way that i’m planning to start using them more wisely.

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