And The Winner Is…Undivided Attention: Mindfulness, Technology and The Oscars Mistake

“Let me have your undivided attention.”
Let’s start by looking at the phrase “Undivided Attention.” In fact let’s look at the phrase, but take a relaxing deep breath first….  So just this week my son, in 6th grade, was preparing for the science fair. About a week before the science fair I started to pepper my son with questions about the hypothesis of the project along with one of my favorites – “What does it mean for the real world?” In between the fidgeting, the distractions (in this case SnapChat) and his older brother in the other room, we focused on the science project at hand.
First, we put the SnapChat machine (iPhone) to the side of the table we were sitting at and tried to continue. But of course, it still buzzed with each alert. This reminded me of the great work Sherry Turkle presented in her groundbreaking book – Alone Together.  She did amazing research that showed that even if the phone was turned off but was still on the table, one’s attention is still dramatically divided. My older son often just turns his phone over but refuses to move the device from his lap, and he begrudgingly looks up and says, “what Dad?.” “Attention Divided.”  So as I got to work on the science fair with my younger son, we took his iPhone out of the room altogether. And yes I put my phone out of the room as well.  Now that we had each others’ “undivided attention, “ we were able to focus on the task at hand – in this case, Personal Cooling Devices Made From Household Items.

The Myth of Multitasking

Here is an excerpt from a useful article from LifeHack.org on the subject:
“However, all of this multitasking is bad for your brain. Recent studies have found that multitasking increases the production of cortisol, a stress hormone, and adrenaline, which can overstimulate the brain. This can cause a “mental fog” that makes it hard for you to concentrate or focus.
“Over time this overload of information leads to a cognitive slowdown. When you have more information to process, you have less time to think about the information properly.”
No wonder why I feel the stress in the back of my neck when I am working on some deep-thinking project and the phone rings, my phone buzzes, or my kid can’t find his socks and “the game is starting soon Dad.” I can feel the cortisol rising in my “stress-o-meter.” So yes, I can relate to the “mental fog” mentioned in the article above. It is hard to focus when too much is going on. No wonder why the job of the air traffic controller is one of the most stressful jobs in the workplace.
Unfortunately in this day and age, we are driven to distraction just about every waking minute – but only if we don’t control our environment. Texting and driving is a life and death example of the dangers of distracted actions. But this modern society affliction has consequences in many aspects of life.

Bonnie and Clyde meets Distracted Driving 

Just a few days ago one of the biggest gaffes occurred in the history of a live broadcast. It was after midnight on the east coast and The Oscars were about to announce the best picture. By now everyone knows what happened. The venerable PricewaterhouseCoopers accounting firm screwed up, big time. I was watching Faye Dunaway and Warren Beatty, aka “Bonnie and Clyde” about to announce the award for the best picture. Well, Warren Beatty was re-reading the card and seemed puzzled. So Faye Dunaway finally announced La La Land as the winner of the best picture and then havoc ensued. It seemed that somehow Bonnie and Clyde screwed up.
Turns out is was no fault of Warren or Faye – the problem emanated from the PWC representative working on the side of the stage at The Oscars. Turns out he was Tweeting about the best actress award, just before he handed the INCORRECT card to Warren Beatty. OOPS!
Yes, the PWC representative was distracted, multi-tasking on literally the world’s biggest stage.  In the fog of multitasking, he inadvertently made a mistake. So while this is not as dangerous as texting and driving, the phenomenon of distracted living/multitasking is real and dangerous. So dangerous in fact, that this mindlessness-induced mistake at The Oscars ceremony is a significant factor contributing to the serious and existential problems facing the 100 plus-year-old accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers.
So this is a clear illustration of the consequences of not being “mindful,” present to the task at hand,  or “at the moment.” – “attention divided.”
I almost forgot to mention the good news in all of this. Turns out the “quality” of undistracted time I spent with my 6th grader on his science project paid off. The project that he did along with his team came in the first place! My son thanked me for spending time with him in preparing for the big event.
Truthfully, we did not spend a lot of extra time together on the project but we did give each other our “undivided attention.”
Thanks for your undivided attention.
Steve Stein

3 Comments

  • Dear Steve Stein,
    I am a colleague of your wonderful bride’s… we worked together at the Riverdale Y.
    I enjoyed this piece very much and resisted the urge to check my cell phone as I read it. We need to work on our digital behaviors… I do, anyway.
    take care and I hope our paths cross. And It’s GREAT that your guy won the Science Fair.
    xo Lisa Karlin

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