Reading and Cleaning, Partly

I’ve been trying to convince myself I enjoy housework by playing an audio book while I saunter about the house making pretenses at improving the general situation. What I can say for this method is that I’m making more progress than I would be sitting on the couch watching TV. I go through the motions, and sometimes I actually sweep or unload the dishwasher, but my mind is on the story.

This is a great way to sort of clean. I highly recommend it.

Yes, it was only yesterday that my column about stepping back from all the gadgets appeared in the newspaper. Gadgets aren’t really the problem, though. It’s the fragmented lifestyle they represent.

We tend to absorb only pieces of information. We read only pieces of articles, and so many people never read books at all.

Multitasking can be good if it allows you to absorb larger pieces of information and more sustained patterns of thought.

There is a school of thought, though, that says there is no such thing as multitasking. People might rapidly switch back and forth between doing two things, but they are still doing them one at a time.

Others might say that even if they are doing more than one thing at once, they aren’t giving either activity their best attention.

Listen to Linda Stone talk about the concept of continuous partial attention:

Linda Stone at Gel 2006 from Gel Conference on Vimeo.

You can learn more about Stone and her ideas about continuous partial attention on her blog.

I’m aware that this is what I’m doing when I read and clean. I’m doing two things at once, with my attention distracted away from both.

I can read a book faster than I can listen to it. I could certainly clean a house faster without allowing my mind to focus on something else.

The gadget life has led me to believe that I ought to do both at once. Because I can.

This isn’t a bad thing. I “read” a lot of books this way. I don’t get that much housework done, but it wasn’t being done anyway. I’m at least not completely sedentary. I’m doing something all the time.

But there are consequences too. I’m training myself to listen in this way…while I am doing something else. Thus, it is difficult for me to have a face-to-face conversation without doing something else while I listen. It’s nearly impossible for me to sit through a meeting if I don’t have something else to do. I take a notebook with me because people will think I am being rude if I mess around with my phone too much during a meeting, but they will just think I’m taking notes if I fiddle with a notebook.

My life hasn’t always been this way. I’ve adjusted and adapted over time to the technologies that have entered my life. I’ve changed the way I listen over time. One day I might think through what that means. Right now I’m processing photographs, listening to the above video, and answering text messages as I try to think of a way to end this post.

If you have read this far, way to pay attention.

As for me, I do want more time spent with the real and less time spent with the technologically contrived. I also want a Bose docking station for my iPod. Surely, with slightly higher sound quality, I’ll finally get my life under control.

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