I used to think I was a great multitasker. As I’ve been writing this article, I’ve done around 6 work-related texts and laundry (and removed my cat from the keyboard several times). Modern conveniences have made this possible. In the past, I would have been hanging laundry outside, possibly with my neighbors. And work was done entirely on location.
They say as we grow older, our ability to multitask decreases. But recently I realized that young people cannot multitask either. Case in point: I was in Winn Dixie returning some items. All was going well with the young woman behind the counter until her friend arrived. The employee was then chatting with her friend while trying to complete my transaction. Two of the items I was returning cost $3.79 each. When I saw that she gave me a credit for $1.99, I tried to communicate to her that it was the wrong amount, but I couldn’t get her attention away from the conversation she was having with her friend. I finally got the message across, and she said “oh.” She fixed the transaction and credited the rest of my items. Then, she finally interrupted her conversation long enough to tell me that I owed her $15. I said no, this is a CREDIT, remember? And she said “oh, right, I don’t know what I was thinking.” So I blurted out “you were not thinking because you were not focusing on the task at hand, that is the problem.” I got some looks that said that I was a big meanie, but whatever. I’m getting tired of being in a culture where it is becoming acceptable for people to not pay attention to the person who is right in front of them, for whatever reason.
We often think we are multitasking, when what we may be doing is wasting our time. I have recently changed my schedule to allow for free time for prayer and meditation, as well as writing and some self care, so I can determine what I want to do with my life. Of course I want to do counseling and social work, but I also want to do research; write; volunteer; do community activism; read all of the books on my shelf (and buy some more); help people start businesses and nonprofits, and connect with people who share interests similar to mine. I want to see the world and get to know people from all walks of life. But what am I doing? I’m at level 218 on June’s Journey (computer game). I check Facebook, which sometimes results in steam coming out of my ears, or it makes me depressed because other people have great husbands, kids, are skinnier, have better jobs and travel more. I am making some progress, but I could be doing so much more. My challenge is this: It seems that we are doing a lot. The days seem to fly by. But what are we really doing and who are we doing it with?
Our lives are becoming too distracted. Recently I found myself eating a delicious salad concoction I had created. I was eating it in front of the TV while a playing a computer game. I suddenly realized that I was not tasting my food, and I didn’t know anything that had happened for the past 15 minutes of my TV show. This is how we seem to live these days. We don’t take the time to enjoy our moments. We don’t enjoy each other. We don’t even take real pleasure in our food. This is why I wanted to spend some of my time doing meditation and practicing mindfulness. Mindfulness calms us down; it reduces stress and helps us to recognize and process our emotions. And just as importantly, it helps us to recognize and enjoy the moments we are in, instead of making ourselves numb by doing so many things at once that we don’t know what we are doing or how we feel about it.
Mindless activities can hamper our ability to have real human relationships. The most popular people in a room practice a form of mindfulness, because they live in the moment. If they are talking to you, they are focused on you. They are interested in what you are saying. In some of our mindfulness trainings, we practiced our listening skills.
Distractions such as Facebook, computer games, TV…these are relatively new phenomena that I’m finding kind of scary. One of the books I’m reading is a book for our church’s next book club by Brene Brown, called Braving the Wilderness. I just read a chapter on fear, and how it can divide us and damage human relationships. She writes that after 9/11, for a while we came together as a country, but then we became divided when we could not agree on who our enemies are supposed to be. She adds that the intention of terrorists was to make us fearful. I vaguely recall the unifying cry of defiance – “we will not be afraid of you!” Tom Petty’s “Won’t Back Down” topped the charts. That was then. Now, many social media posts are designed to scare us. In that sense the terrorists have won, because I see a spirit of fear on Social media, and an increase in divisiveness as we have begun to fear one another instead of a common enemy.
Before the advent of social media, if we feared our neighbors, we were still forced to see them and talk to them. And if we got to know them, in most cases we learned to not fear them, and often to love them. Now, we only learn about people from memes and posts on social media that often aren’t factual, are partially factual, or are just plain mean. These posts are meant to divide: my side is right, yours is wrong. I love my guy, so I must I hate your guy. These are the right things my guy is doing; these are the wrong things your guy did.
This social media phenomenon worries me because I see people becoming meaner without even realizing it. When a news story was shared recently about women who happened to be swimming, and were therefore in bathing suits, the only comments on the post were about their weight (which wasn’t relevant to the article). I see church people posting things that call people who disagree with them “libtards.” Do they think that term makes them look smart? Try reading a book instead. Or Ephesians 4:29. Or try talking with others who differ from you and see them as fellow children of God just trying to get along in this world like everyone else. Since when is it acceptable to call people names who disagree with us? I used to enjoy William F. Buckley’s Firing Line debates. If you want to see a classy way of debating your point, find reruns of those and watch them.
Recently I was in the company of someone from another country, and while I was waiting for him to finish his errand I checked Facebook. There, I found people saying ugly things about immigrants as comments on a Facebook post. When he came back, I found it hard to look at him without wanting to cry. If you knew this person, you would see what a wonderful person he is. I wish these people knew him. Name calling, living in fear, and doing the things people do on Facebook these days is not classy. It is not living. It is not real life. It is not swaying people to your point of view. Instead, it is helping to create a worldview that is sometimes ugly and scary. If you feel strongly about your opinions, come out and do something positive to change what you do not like.
It makes me so sad to think that we are being led down a path of disunity, hate, and division, all while looking at our computer screens and avoiding real life. We no longer spend time with people we agree with or disagree with. No one agrees with others 100% of the time unless we don’t have a mind of our own. We have forgotten how to be with people and to either politely disagree or change the subject. It’s called human interaction. Are we forming real relationships any more? People think that they are connected to groups because they share the same posts with those who think like them and call the other groups names on social media. Are those people going to take you to doctor’s appointments when you are sick or give you food when you are hungry? We aren’t gonig to meet people who will be with us in our time of hurt unless we get off of social media and meet them in person.
Online relationships and activities are a diversion from real life. Sometimes that’s a good thing. But there are times when we may spend so much time looking at screens that we forget to live. We are not talking to real people as often as we did in the past. I remember after Hurricane Katrina standing in the long lines at the grocery store talking to the people around me. For weeks afterward, people’s greetings to friends and strangers alike were along the lines of “so how did you make out?” And we cared and listened to the responses. This is no more. Now, even when we are having dinner with people we care about, we are usually checking our phones to see if people on Facebook are having more fun than we are, or posting our own photos to show the Facebook world that we are having as much fun as they are.
I am not bashing Facebook. I think it’s a wonderful thing. I’ve reconnected with people I haven’t seen in years! I’ve “lurked” to see what old boyfriends are up to (not stalking, I promise, just curious). I am using social media to post this essay, hoping that people will read and enjoy it. Social media has helped writers to have an audience we may not otherwise have had. But perhaps we should check social media at intervals during the day, and focus on our other tasks the rest of the time.
I’m saying this because I don’t know about you, but my life isn’t over yet. I want to accomplish more. I want to do more. I want to see more (with my own eyes and not because someone else did it and posted it). If we do this, we will see that multitasking is a myth. We are losing our ability to focus on our moments, and this can have long-term damaging physical and mental consequences, as well as causing a lot of regret at the end of our lives when we wonder where it all went, what else we could have done and who we could have done it with.
P.S. I don’t like to post problems without solutions. Here are some suggestions on ways to have real human connection with people:
- Invite someone to lunch or dinner
- Invite people over to play hearts or bridge or scrabble
- Start a book club or bible study
- Attend an event on your own, so you are forced to talk to people you don’t know
- Volunteer at a local nonprofit
- Join a gym
- Attend church
- Take classes, either at the local university or a community college, or in an area of interest, such as photography, writing, art, history
- Attend lectures
Do you have other ideas?