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Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Perils of Stressed Multi-Tasking

So, yesterday on the news there was a big feature on August being "Purple Ribbon Month." I guess purple ribbons are used any time a cause is seeking to raise awareness of the issues associated with it. In this case, it's leaving children unattended in parked vehicles which often leads to death due to overheating. I was genuinely amazed that this is really a thing, but there have been more cases on the news reporting this than I thought possible. 

In response to my surprise, I posted a little blurb on Facebook that said this, "So the news is telling me that it's Purple Ribbon Month: A reminder to not leave your children in a hot car. WHY IS THIS A THING? How in the world could you "forget" that your kids are in the car? People...don't leave any live thing in the car. Is it really that hard to understand this concept?"

The responses were interesting...most were with me, some were stating that awareness of any kind is always good and one thoughtful friend wrote to me to explain that he did actually leave his child in the car once when he was stressed because he was rushing his wife to the hospital for an emergency and while he had one kid, the other one had fallen asleep so he left her. He soon realized his action and ran back to the car, found her OK, but realized that it was one of the worst days of his life and noted that he would never make that mistake again. Thank God his daughter was fine. Another friend reminded me that on their way home from the hospital, in getting out of the cab, her husband grabbed a lot of things but did forget the baby! They were brand new parents so I give them a pass on this one as well. But these stories did give me empathy for these situations, realizing that most parents are not so negligent that they willfully leave their children in the car out of laziness or a lack of care, but rather by mistake or without knowledge of how dangerous the situation really is for children. My point was not to render judgement. I was just shocked that someone could actually forget that their child was with them and therefore leave them unattended in a hot vehicle.

So as I pondered all of these things, I began to realize that one of the chief problems with our current lifestyles is that multi-tasking has divided our attention and created more stress in our lives rather than lessening the stress by streamlining tasks. In many cases where kids get left in the car, the parents are stressed, juggling more than one emotionally tasking demand, and simply lack the emotional capacity to think clearly. The constant barrage of information, distraction and stress that having a smart phone attached to our hands has also contributed to a more inattentive society rather than the opposite.

One of the things that Doug and I have not had during this 6 month sabbatical period are smart phones. We decided to skip the substantial expense of mobile phones given that we weren't working and we were home a lot of the time. We've had a burner tracfone which has caused a great deal of amusement among our friends and vendors. Store vendors cannot believe that we don't have a modern phone and we've realized that many "short-cuts" involve an app on your phone. Many of these things do help, but in general, I believe that the smart phone culture has contributed substantially to shorter attention spans, a greater degree of stress, and have created too many things to think about at once, therefore creating gaps in our attentiveness to things that perhaps really matter.

I guess perhaps what I'm driving at more than anything is that we have a real problem with being present in the moment with just the moment to focus on. Doug and I were just amazed at how connected people were to their phones when we were at Disney last week. Almost everyone waiting in line was playing on their phone. Doug and I didn't have phones so we talked, watched people, rested our minds. We stayed in the moment and soaked it in. It's so hard to do when you have a device nearby. 

Now, the irony of this blog post is that just today we bought new iPhones for use in England. They will be necessary and helpful as we begin new jobs in a new city. But I am really hoping that the sabbatical we've enjoyed away from smart phones will impact the way in which we allow (or not!) our phones to become an appendage that we cannot live without.

How do smart phones, attentiveness, stress and leaving children in a hot car all tie together? It has to do with the demands we put on our psyches to juggle tasks and to stay tuned in to more people and situations than we have the capacity for therefore reducing the capacity to focus on the things that are truly important. Like our kids sitting in the back seat on a hot day.

Stress impacts our ability to think straight whether we realize it or not. Perhaps it's time to reduce the stressors that we have control over in order to create a more safe and sane lifestyle for us and our loved ones.