I have a sneaking suspicion that there is a more curious than obvious reason for the automated nature of our heart-beat and breath.
NPR woke me up about 6:30 a few days ago with a story on a university experiment that debunked traditional attitudes toward multitasking. It caught my attention right away because I have generally considered myself a decent multitask-er and have prided myself in the past on identifying those who are and those who aren't. (i.e. my artist-husband). But as I listened, I learned that human brain cannot actually multi-task. Rather, it very quickly jumps from one task to another - so quickly, in fact, that we do not notice. This causes us to divide our attention among the number of tasks we involve ourselves with.( 1 )
Tangent 1 | Tangent 2 |
Can you imagine what it would be like to need to consider the air that we take in while driving a car? What if we had to make sure our heart kept beating in rhythm while we carried on a conversation with our significant other?
I know that I cannot read through my inbox and have a conversation with my friend over the phone. I can pretend to "actively listen" by repeating main points my brain caught during the tug-of-war between email and cell - but in the end, I am desperately trying to force my friend and her conversation into the framework of my agenda. To "kill two birds with one stone" does not speak of an advantageous opportunity, but rather a lifestyle I am desperately trying to practice.
Sometimes it has nothing to do with busyness. When my husband is telling me about a new piece he is beginning while I am taking care of our finances, I sometimes feel entitled to lump him into the category of "Obligation I Must Fulfill" by effectively allocating my attention. In these cases, I treat my companionship as a scarce commodity that I distribute to pre-prioritized demands. I let a "competitive individualism" slip in, one that "tries to reconcile itself with a culture that speaks about togetherness, unity and community…” ( 4 ) My relationships become part of a to-do list, rather than the context by which I operate.
By the practice of this attitude, I might respond to a frantic friend's tears by deciding her needs are urgent and take precedence over my planned priorities. While this may seem like a compassionate response, it comes as a knee-jerk reaction that demands my "scarce" attention at the cost of the status my social charity. Elizabeth Newman writes, “In a market society, all human relations are reduced to contract, destroying the longer-term bonds needed to sustain human society.” ( 5 ) I still play by laws of supply and demand and, in truth, I superficially respond to fulfill a duty in my friendship.
But I wonder if, perhaps, I had truly and fully, without distraction, devoted myself to her in a few days sooner, if I would have been aware of her deteriorating state before her collapse.
“Living a life that places higher value on relationships and community than it does on commerce and productivity – this is counter to how much o us have been taught.”( 6 )
(I also heard somewhere that women do this far better than men because they have more connections in their brain. This is also why they are much more social.( 2 ))
Return to reading.
(holy cow, I just told Matt that according to this study (3), man and women are equally capable of multitasking but women make fewer mistakes than men. I said this is for many reason reasons and one being that woman have a higher blood flow to their brain; his response to this "I can't help if it I wield the wand of power.")
Return to reading.
1: How Multitasking Affects Human Learning (NPR)
2: Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget (Science Blogs)
3: Gender Differences in Multitasking (MWSU)
4: Nouwen, Henri J., and Gerard W. Hughes. Reaching Out : A Special Edition of the Spiritual Classic Including Beyond the Mirror. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1997.
5: Newman, Elizabeth. Untamed Hospitality : Welcoming God and Other Strangers. New York: Brazos P, 2007.
6: Pratt, Lonni Collins, and Daniel Homan. Radical Hospitality : Benedict's Way of Love. New York: Paraclete P, Incorporated, 2005.