If You Don’t Want to Be A Zombie, Wake Up!

Have you ever been talking on the phone with a good friend and they start laughing for no reason, then get very focused on something else, and then their voice trails off mid-sentence…and it all seems to have nothing to do with what you are saying?  You suddenly aren’t sure if you are crazy or if maybe they are.

Your Friend is Not, In Fact, A Zombie.

You find that they are actually playing a video game, watching a show, looking online at videos, or texting someone. It dawns on you that you could have better spent your time talking to the dog, because at least he would be paying attention. You feel silly for having been talking at all; duped out of some of your precious minutes on this planet talking to a zombie that temporarily took over your friend.

Our ability as humans to multitask is rather phenomenal. But I fear it can get out of control. Have you seen the movie Wall-E? In it, people are riding around on hovering chairs, talking on the phone to each other even if they are a foot away. Food gets served automatically, and their feet never touch the ground. They don’t have to use their muscles, and they are doing everything all at once.

Have you ever texted someone just because they were downstairs and you didn’t want to get up? I have. It starts there, and only gets worse.

I was talking to my sister about making this very post, and as I was talking to her I was also writing a zip code on an envelope; my voice trailed off and the taste of hypocrisy rushed in. She hardly noticed of course, because she was playing a game on her new iPhone and listening to some horrible music. Zombies talking to zombies.

What to Do?

My goal is to start to become more aware of when I am multitasking and when I am not so that a choice can be made.

Maybe I’m fully capable of talking to someone while checking my WordPress stats and also looking at Facebook and researching something for my job. But what about just talking to my sister, what about just looking at Facebook, what about tasting the feeling of one thing at a time? I can choose to do this more often than not if and only if I am aware of the difference. But why is this effort even necessary; why not just live in a multitasking frenzy?

Writers Need To Experience Things

The best writing, to me, is in tune with reality. Whether it is fictional, fantasy or non-fiction, it is using elements of reality to evoke a response.

Details are going to come through in my writing more successfully when I witness them fully. I want to be aware of how it feels to speak to my sister, to hear the nuances in her voice, to listen to what she is saying and how her voice rises and falls depending on the topic. I want to feel my own heart beat faster as we start laughing about something, to feel the edges of my face lift in a true smile as she tells me about one of her accomplishments. These are things I cannot notice if I am half-listening to her and half-checking to see how many people are clicking on my blog’s fancy new Facebook page (hint, hint).

Let’s Look Out For Each Other, Shall We?

This can be a community effort, on some level. Your friends don’t want to disrespect you. They don’t want you to hang up the phone feeling awkward and misled. But you need to tell them how this makes you feel; we need to stick together so that we don’t end up as a bunch of osteoporosis-riddled people on hovercrafts with no ability to look each other in the eye.

In order to be a good writer, you need to be willing to live, to listen, to experience. Otherwise, all you have to go off of is hearsay. And that is boring; even a zombie could do better. Let’s not let that happen.

Do you prefer to multitask and get lots of things done at once?  Does that somehow help you improve your skills as a writer, blogger, mother, artist, or any other talent?

Do you think that you have a good ability to do one thing at a time?

Do you think it really matters, or am I just bonkers?

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56 thoughts on “If You Don’t Want to Be A Zombie, Wake Up!

  1. Yes, it matters! We’re not really living if we aren’t paying attention to what we are doing. And it’s not just multitasking, sometimes we’re doing only one thing, but our brain is far away thinking about something else. Being mindful of what we are doing is key to being truly alive.

    Great post!

  2. I agree. I think sometimes it just good to do one thing at once, instead if talking on the phone and watching tv at the same time, just talk on the phone. There is something so relaxing and peacefully about just doing one thing at a time.

  3. In today’s world everyone is in a rush, including me. We do need to slow down, and enjoy the moment. I’m doing it right now, writing and watching the Olympics. I need to stop and listen to my boys when they are speaking to me. I am ALWAYS doing something when they are trying to talk to me, and that makes them feel less than important. Thanks for the post, it really hit home!

    • I am so glad it hit home! I did have a whole paragraph about kids, but I deleted it because there are people like Zanni and her Heart Mama blog that can do such a better job than me, as I don’t have kids, but I do think it is so important to pay attention to those little guys! They are full of so much magic and curiosity, and I would bet that as a parent, it is the times you fully-focus on them that you really remember when it feels like they are growing up so fast later on :) Thank you so much for sharing!

      • OMGoodness, I didn’t mean for you to include “mom’s” or the topic of parenting in your beautiful post, I’m so sorry….. It’s just I have been with my children all summer (I’m a preschool teacher) and really haven’t had a break. As I was reading your post they came to mind because they will be trying to tell me something and I’ll be too busy to stop for 5 seconds and “listen to them.” You reminded me that I have to to listen, thank you :)
        BTW you are gave parenting advice and didn’t realize it, much better than the other 2 blogs I’m sure of it. But that’s my opinion…. ;) You need to win one of those blog awards that I’ve been seeing. You deserve it.

        • Oh I wish I could include more about kids and moms! I just don’t know about those topics very much- and I was very happy that you were able to relate the main point of this post with having kids- that is awesome :) And thank you for saying that I deserve rewards! I have actually decided to not take rewards at this time, for various reasons, but I am always honored and appreciative of the people who nominate me! I may at some point make a post for all the people who have done so because I am so grateful, I just don’t wish to display them right now. Thank you so much, I hope that you continue to enjoy this blog and have fun this summer!

          • I understand about accepting the nominations, I didn’t even know about them until this past week.
            This is what is so weird, Last night right after I messaged you about getting an award, I went to write my blog and I had a message from the girl who nominated me.
            My summer is over, my boys go back to school on Wed. Aug 8th :( I go back Aug 15th !! Too soon….

  4. Nice post, with lots of ideas that seem to be quite of high import in society today. I personally don’t like multi-tasking. I think it best to do one thing, get that out of the way and then move onto the next as to put your attention onto one subject. If you are applying all of your attention onto one project rather than several, then that one project will be almost always more successfully accomplished than it would have been if only a small portion of your attention was applied to it whilst the rest of you was focused on other issues at hand. I would like to think moreover that I have a good ability to do one thing at a time, but I would also state that life is filled with distractions, and when you multi-task, I think you are less distracted because you plan to do numerous things at once, but when attempting to focus just on one project it is so easy to become distracted because the human mind is incapable of thinking about one thing for long periods. I mean, think about it. You start thinking about writing – you plan to write, you want to write. Then you think about going onto Facebook and changing your status, and then going to WordPress to check out your blog, then you start thinking about the next day, whether you are wearing clean underwear, whether the cat was fed…
    Additionally, I think this matters. It’s almost quite scary to think about, especially if Wall-E turns out to be a truthful articulation of the human species where humans are basically a bunch of overweight, over fed, nincompoops.

    • Nincompoops! I haven’t heard that word in so long, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen it written…I totally agree with you. It is sometimes easier to get a lot done by multitasking, especially if you are prone to distraction, as I definitely am :) At the same time, I think what I am aiming for is an ability to be focused on the moment. Not even necessarily on a task at hand such as writing, but on what is happening right now, especially when it is an engaging activity such as talking to a person or to your kids or something. It’s those times that it really pays to not be focused on distractions. But with writing, I mean, who am I kidding, there is hardly a such thing as focused attention…unless I’m writing fiction. Then sometimes, it takes a loud voice yelling at me to get me out of the fully-engaged state of mind.
      And I do worry about Wall-E becoming true, it seems we are on the way there, but not everyone, and not all at once. So hopefully, we are all all right. And if not, a wonderfully joyful robot will probably save us :) Thank you, as always, for your wonderful and inspiring comments!

  5. It was a very thoughtful post. These might look like the most insignificant of the things that we might have to sort out, but these little things are what matters the most. Giving our 100% to everything we do would give us the chance to experience a different kind of joy. It is important we learn to enjoy every bit of it all. Multitasking might look fascinating, but one would not get the satisfaction.
    Wonderfully written.. all of us should give it a thought and experience the joy of keeping it all simple.

    • Thank you so much, Ti :) It is true- the more insignificant something seems at first glance, usually, the more profound. And like Naughtynefarious said in the previous comment, it is really, really hard to do 100% all the time! But as long as we do it sometimes, even once a week while talking to someone we love, we at least are not getting lost in the allure of multitasking. Thank you so much for your input!

  6. We are by nature drawn to important moments. Marketing strategy often creates the sense of importance. Newspapers, magazines, television, and yes your computer/ipone/ipad all carry importance. How important is it that I watch Michael Phelps’ last race, really? The world says it’s important, historical and I should be a part of history. Well, I missed it; I’m still functioning. Writing is a selective reality, we don’t write about every moment because every moment does not push forward our story. We need to be selective regarding what is important to us; everything cannot be important and maintain our sanity. Funny, but just before looking at this post, I saw a magazine article about Silicon Valley’s Fears Over Addiction to Electronics… !

    • Very, very true! I always enjoy your input. There are indeed some moments that are more important than others; and selecting the ones that are worth writing about in any particular piece/story is going to be the skill of the writer. I also have not seen Phelps’ talents being displayed, and I am still living, so that makes two of us :)

  7. Awesome work…this should have been frshily pressed…you were robbed! I agree the more teck savy we get, it seems the more we lose our humanity. Think you just inspired my next blog…nice post!

    • Haha aw thanks for the complement! I’m glad that it brought some inspiration to you! And for the record, I do think that we can get tech-savvy and also maintain or even improve our levels of “humanity,” it just takes some mindful effort and awareness and love. Technology does nothing to destroy us, but our laziness does :) So glad you stopped by!

  8. You, darling, are not bonkers. You are evolved. This is one-pointed attention
    and cultivating it is worthwhile. I never thought I was paying attention to the TV when it was on but now that it poofed and I did not buy another, I am amazed at how much my brain must have been “over there.” My own little experiment…try it at home if you dare!

    • That is great :) I’ve actually lived without a television for many, many years. I have one now, and I do enjoy watching the occasional movie. But I do know what you mean, it is amazing how different life can feel with them and without them, especially when it turns into the one-way to relax!

  9. Hey Jennifer, awesome ideas. This is an interesting topic that I think could have an entire blog or class dedicated to it! I think that somehow we equate utilizing the technological tools at our disposal with using them all at the same time. It’s like since things are more easily accessible that we feel like we should access them… all the time. Though it seems counter-intuitive, what you are talking about here can stifle our creativity at times. I think that creativity in its most pure form is born of the human soul and the heart which can be drowned out by the constant hum of the machines we use to convey those creative ideas. People sometimes forget that what there heart has to say or what their mind wants to create does not have to pass through the gauntlet of technology before it can be great. For me, the inspiration to write and to create comes in silent moments free from touch screens and Siri. Life just seems sweeter when it is consumed with our whole heart, wouldn’t you say? Thanks for these words.

    • Ah yes, exactly! Where did that all-at-the-same-time assumption come in? Part of it seems to be possibly expectation- we are expected to keep up with our social circles in all of these forms. Returning a phone call used to mean that you had to be home…now, you are always accessible. I agree that leaving room for the heart to speak is important. That is when I get my ideas too, now that I think of it! They rarely arise while I am in the facebook-linkedin-twitter-wordpress-working world! Time to create more space, I’d say :)

  10. I sometimes multitask but I find that being mindful, paying attention to what I am doing or talking to improves the quality of what I am doing and enhances my communication. Enjoyed reading your post!

  11. I remember one of my Grade 11 teachers told us that just because she was doodling in a meeting, that did not mean she was not paying attention. She is a very creative and artistic person (she was also my most awesome Grade 10 Art teacher). According to her and the right-brain/left-brain theory, she needed something to keep her overactive right brain busy while she focused on the structured and mundane administrative meetings.

    • I was the same way! Perhaps there should be a unique word for doodling-while-listening, since that makes a lot of sense! The right and left brain being active at once does seem so useful, I wish I’d mentioned that in the post.
      I would bet that writing something on Facebook while talking to someone on the phone is a slightly different brain process, and it doesn’t feel like it helps to listen as much as doodling does, for me at least. Most of the activities we do at once these days seem to be left-brain, unless someone is doodling on their ipad while talking to you or something like that :)

      • *grin* Well… you can write another amazing post on the simultaneously active left and right brain. ;)

        Oh, I can attest to the fact that surfing Facebook and talking on the phone are different brain processes…and unfortunately when I try to do that, I don’t do a good job of either one.

  12. Yeah I think you are bonkers!! just like me, actually! I think we are getting older and the younger lot, well to us we can still say its wierd, to them, its all natural.

    It makes it all the more special when there is real interest and concentration.

  13. I completely agree, great work. I think we have all of the “Busy Mom” articles to thank, the ones who encourage us to fold laundry while we talk on the phone, or to put someone on speaker while we make dinner. I know everyone is into multi-tasking but in the end something or someone isn’t getting 100% of our full attention so have we really gained anything? I’d much rather do one thing at a time and give 100% to all, especially family and friends.

    • Wow, I did not even think about articles like that! What an amazing point. Almost like a pendulum where people realize hey, a cordless phone lets you multitask far more than a regular one, and now there are cell phones, and speaker phone, and it just gets to the point where it is actually harder to not multitask :) I agree that 100% to family and friends feels best. If only we could do dishes, fold clothes, and vacuum at once!

  14. We only have so much attention, only so much we can magically transform with our consciousness. Lately, I’ve been reminded to prioritize. Multitasking happens some times, but I’ve become a much better impromptu planner. We often have enough mana (attention) to arrange our priorities in an instant, relying on our intuition, and can avoid a grinding clench of distraction thereof. So I feel.

    • Mmm good point, Charles! Prioritizing is something I need to think more about, within each moment and through the course of the hour or the day. Intuition as well, for some reason, the more technology I use the less my intuition seems to come into play; although I have been making room for it lately, and it feels good :)

  15. Pingback: Oh Bother!: What Winnie The Pooh Can Teach Us About Listening… And Learning Too « Unboxed Life

  16. I absolutely agree with you…at work (which is a really boring job I took to get through grad school), I often feel like I’m on autopilot, multi-tasking a million mundane projects at one time. It really does make me feel numb then when I try to write…I suppose that’s why people like Annie Dillard live in the woods when she writes.

    Cheers to you, and thank you thank you thank you for starting my work day on a more mindful note. I am absolutely a follower now!

    Courtney Hosny

    • I am so happy you enjoyed it, Courtney! My job can be like that too. I try to stay aware of the moment even while being in autopilot, and it can make things seem fuller and help me to choose my feelings. I’m not usually very good at it in those moments, hope the blog continues to be fun for you to read :)

  17. According to ‘the experts’ human beings aren’t actually capable of multi-tasking anyway. Rather, we’re just quickly switching our attention from one thing to another, never really giving any of those things are focused attention. I’ve been finding I need to be more aware of that myself – especially since I’ve now joined the ranks of smartphone owners. Just an hour ago I realized I was only half listening to my mother because I was reading blogs on my phone. I justified it by the fact that I was reading before she started talking to me so really she was interrupting . . . but I know which of the the two things actually deserved my focused attention – and it wasn’t the one that fits in my palm!

    • Yes, yes, yes! Exactly- we are always doing one thing at a time, the multitasking is really switching rapidly from one to the next, so really, we are already masters at undivided attention, we just have to stick with it :)

  18. Yikes, I really needed to read this! I am so guilty of listening to my poor husband and typing an article at the same time. I think I feel an artificial pressure to multitask, but I need to bring my full attention to the present moment and my loved ones. This post is great food for thought!

  19. I do believe that single-minded attention matters. The mind and the body can multitask, but I don’t think you can reach a state of Zen-like flow of spiritual immersion if you are fragmenting your consciousness. This is especially important when dealing with other people, because what we all want most of all is to connect.

    I’m really glad you somehow found my blog and left a comment, which allowed me to find your blog!

    -aniko

    • Ah yes, mind and body connecting is such a big part of so many meditative and Yoga practices, right? That single-mindedness, that connection and presentness, they are very important and useful for so many things. Otherwise we are just at our emotional whims and that can be scary and make us seasick. I love your blog, and I am happy that you like mine too!

  20. this is a great post. the more aware of multitasking i have become over the last several years has resulted in doing it a lot less. these are my findings:
    1. i very often notice hardly anyone ever gives full attention to what they are doing
    2. friends can find it disturbing when you ask them not to use their phone while speaking with you
    3. when stories are related with all of the details in tact, you risk being thought of as an exaggerator!
    i’ll take the label and the awareness everytime. :)
    namaste,
    laurie

  21. Great post Jennifer! I have been paying attention to this more and more. I am trying to be in the moment and pay attention to what is going on right now.

  22. I find myself going all Zombie, while driving. Not as dangerous as it seems, I am paying attention to the road right in front of me. My mind though, is definitely a million miles away. Not quite what you are getting at vis a vis interaction with others, but…
    I often give my friend the gears if I am in the vehicle with him and I point something out to him along the road, one we have traveled for many years. “Have you ever wondered who put that there? What? Really, you’ve never noticed that before? No.”
    Life, and the little things passing me by. Once I took the time to listen and notice and smell and taste, well, it was a wonderful world we live in, isn’t it?
    Oops, my wife was just talking to me and I, ha, I just went Zombie on her. Gotta go.

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