Wednesday, March 18, 2015


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I heard the other day that Victor Hugo, when faced with writer's block had a unique method for getting back on track: he ordered his servants to remove all his clothing from his room, essentially hiding it from him so he would be forced to write naked to avoid all distractions. I know that most people think that writer's block is the worst malady a writer could suffer from but I would like to propose that distraction is worse. And unlike Victor Hugo, who might have been distracted merely by his clothing, writers today would have to hole up in a lead box with only a typewriter to avoid distraction altogether!

As a working mother, a product of the '80s and '90s, I was the great multitasker. I could change a diaper while talking on the phone while getting dinner on the table while starting another load of clothes while helping another child with his science project while balancing the checkbook. This was born out of necessity: there is no way that the millenials could have survived to become the greatest critics of the baby boomer generation without mothers who could make a sandwich while driving the gang to soccer practice. And, sorry was the mothers who did all the multitasking. This is entirely the fault of Revlon's Enjoli commercial, launched in 1978. I hold the ad executives who created this commercial solely responsible for at least two decades of suffering by young working moms. Because of them we all felt that we should be able to "...bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, ever, let you forget you're a man..." And so, we least we tried. I'm not sure about the last phrase but I did my share of bringing home bacon and I definitely was the one, more often than not, that fried it up. Along with completing every other household chore. So for me, to not multitask meant more than failure to live up to an ideal; it was my gender imperative.

Now, of course, brain experts will tell you that, in fact, the brain can only really focus on one thing at a time and so in truth we cannot really multitask. For that you would need a computer, which is where the term started. But mothers of the latter part of the 20th century will tell you differently. We did multitask and we did it actually pretty effectively. I mean, my children got their homework done, dinner was tasty and edible (translated: not burnt), bills were paid on time, the dog and cat were fed, the garden weeded, the volunteer calling done, and that was after putting in my 8 hours on the job (and sometimes during that job). I mean, it nearly killed an entire generation of women but look at the great generation of kids that came out of it!

Now here's the rub: the problem with learning to multitask is that it's even more difficult to unlearn. And technology has not been our friend in this. Instead of computers making our lives easier they have succeeded in making them more cluttered. I remember the day my husband excitedly unwrapped his new IBM 8086 computer and announced to me that his friend, Don (the closest thing to a computer nerd we knew in 1984) was going to give him lessons in how to use it and that I should join them. I also remember thinking he was insane (and probably told him that). I had just given birth to the second child in 2 years, had a large house and yard to take care of, ironing, washing, cooking, etc. and had absolutely no time left over for such silly things as a computer!

Wow was I naive--about a great many things but especially about the infiltration of technology that would quickly take over our lives, rendering us helpless without it and creating within us a powerful addiction. Fast forward 31 years and here I sit, in front of my HP Pavilion dm4 laptop with 64-bit operating system, 6 GB of installed RAM, and a 2.20 GHz Intel Core CPU (already outdated the minute I removed it from the box about 6 years ago). And I'm now connected to the world through Facebook (where I have control over 11 pages, have more than 400 personal friends, and like/follow more than 470 pages), Twitter (where I follow more than 225 accounts and have more than 135 of my own followers), Instagram, Outlook email, Gmail (where I have/control at least 5 accounts), Blogger (where I personally have at least 10 blog sites) , online newsletters, subscriptions to other person's blogs, etc. And then of course there's Pintrest, LinkedIn, Nextdoor, Skype, YouTube, and Messenger. And then there's my iPhone with texting and phone calls going on all day. Suddenly multitasking has taken on new meaning and dimension. And so has the problem of distraction.

To exacerbate the situation, I use my computer to write. I mean, who doesn't? The very act of sitting down and turning on my computer provides me with a plethora of opportunities to multitask and a multitude of distractions, even if I'm just innocently using Google search to do research on what I'm writing. Suddenly I find myself brain-deep in the "rabbit hole"of the internet, two hours have gone by, and I haven't done a lick of actual writing. If writing was difficult in the days of Victor Hugo because of distractions, how much worse is it now and does it have the capacity to get. Today writer's block can't hold a candle to the internet.

Mr. Hugo: I meet your wardrobe and raise you one computer connected to the world wide web.

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