April 4, 2006

Two phones and a codger

Driving to work today I missed a light three times in similar situations.

The first time, the driver of the car was talking on a cell phone and couldn’t be bothered to make it through the light.

The second time, another car was driving well below the speed limit near Slades Ferry Bank driving towards the Brightman Street Bridge. I would have passed this car, but it was weaving dangerously. The light at Rt 6/Rt 138 turned yellow and red, and finally I was able to roll up beside the car. It looked like the 40-something woman in the SUV was playing with her phone. She continued to do so until the light turned green. I swear, it appeared like she was text-messaging someone! Or maybe she was using the phone’s keyboard to type out a suicide note.

The third time was in Dartmouth on Faunce Corner road. I thought I was dealing with another cell phone driver. A big car in the left turn lane suddenly drove right into an intersection without turning (there’s no lane there!) and then swung dangerously back into one of the lanes. By the time we got to Rt 6 he was pretty much done swerving back and forth. A glance over disproved my cell phone theory. It was just an old codger.

Driving in the SouthCoast. It’s like surviving in the jungle.

Posted by James at April 4, 2006 4:46 PM
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I hope you weren't on the phone when you called me this afternoon! LOL

Posted by: Keri at April 4, 2006 11:25 PM

It is for situations like these that one needs a rocket launcher mounted on the hood of one's car. I've often wished I had one, myself.

As the immorta Bruce Cockburn sang, "If I had a rocket launcher, I'd make somebody pay."

Posted by: Patti M. at April 5, 2006 7:24 AM

I was on the phone, but I wasn't behind the wheel!

Besides, I use a headset when I need my hands free.

The woman who was texting wasn't even pretending to look at the road.

Posted by: James at April 5, 2006 8:42 AM

You may remember the slogan from the '60s, "Be here now."

This is perhaps more applicable now than then, as we have a multitude of distractions, including cell phones.

I have heard this phrase modified thusly: "Be here now; be somewhere else later." My own tweak to this is "Concentrate on the task at hand."

People don't give their full attention to much these days. From the supermarket cashier who is busy chatting with the bagger and screwing up my order to the moron you encountered the other day who was typing away on her cell phone instead of driving.

Two years ago, the Wall Street Journal ran a story about multitasking with the headline "Multitasking Makes You Stupid." I agree. Put your effort into doing the task well, then move on to the next task.

I had a boss who said to me once, "70% of 10 things equals zero." She was right.

Start and finish. Start and finish.

Posted by: Patti M. at April 5, 2006 8:52 AM

Don't tell that to my job, else I'll get complaints about listening to Keri while I'm coding!

Actually, I find that some things go well together. Like music and coding, for me.

Posted by: James at April 5, 2006 8:54 AM

Plus there are times when you need to multi-task. I kick off a test, and while I am awaiting its completion, I respond to a question. My testing task is not complete but it does not benefit from my attention at that moment.

Posted by: briwei at April 5, 2006 1:17 PM

Listening to music while you do your job isn't multitasking--you do not need to do anything to the music to complete it or move it along.

Nor is doing another task while one is really doing it's thing independent of you. You don't have to do anything to an assay while it's running--that's what frees you up to do something else.

My office is very open and densely packed. While people are for the most part respectful of the need for silence to aid in completion of work, it's not always the case. If you could take a tour of my office, you'd see we all have headphones.

I have a stack of CDs, but mostly I listen to MIT radion at http://wmbr.mit.edu

Their early moring shows feature new music that is very much my thing: music from alernative artists. Two shows in particular are not to be missed:

M-F, 8 A.M.-10 A.M. is Breakfast of Champions
M-F, 10 A.M.-Noon is Late Riser's Club

Also good is the science show Biologue (Th, 5-5:30).

Posted by: Patti M. at April 5, 2006 4:01 PM

Different jobs require diferent techniques. And different people are better suited for different jobs. For instance I'm happiest and therefore most productive when I have too much to do.

I was recently reading an article that said people with ADD (which I most certainly would have been diagnosed with if it had been around back in the day) are better off in jobs that require divided attention. they have a hard time focusing on one thing at a time and they get bored easily.

Posted by: B.O.B. (bob) at April 5, 2006 4:20 PM

The idea of focusing your attention on the task you are doing at the moment is zen. For the most part I agree with it, except I do wonder how it is supposed to be applied when you are suffering. I haven't read that much about it. I'm sure there's an answer.

I am personally very tired of seeing people on cell phones when they are with other people. At first, when there weren't so many cell phones, I interpreted them as thinking they were quite important -- it was mostly people in businesses who had them. "I'm so critical to my business that even here, out with my family/at the laundromat/in the men's room I must be available!" But now that they're so prevalent, I think they're just pathetic. It's a clear statement to the people around the user that they're secondary, and it's a cheat to the user to constantly have their attention focused elsewhere. It's as if they're really nowhere.

What did Yoda say about Luke? "Never his mind on where he was, what he was doing." For the Jedi at least, it's a bad thing.

Posted by: Maggie at April 5, 2006 4:33 PM

Yep, the cell phone usage you describe really burns my biscuit.

You're not important or multitasking, people, you're just being rude.

This brings us full circle to my need for a rocket launcher. My husband would like to be the munificient dictator, but I would rather just eliminate these people once and for all. Who needs to dictate to them when they're dead?

Posted by: Patti M. at April 5, 2006 5:19 PM

In Quahog, RI we say:

"That really grinds my geahs!"

Posted by: James at April 5, 2006 5:22 PM

Zen vs suffering: Suffering isn't an activity, or shouldn't be (I know some people make a hobby of it) - it's a state of mind. So there is no conflict.

Meditation is supposed to help you mentally detach yourself from the things that cause suffering. Zen is like a working meditation. Whether you are peeling potatoes, working in the garden, or just doing a puzzle, zen means you focus on the task rather than stew over other things (as I tend to do). That doesn't mean other thoughts, possibly thoughts of suffering, may not float through your brain, but (with practice) you dismiss them and stay focused on the task.

The purpose of the zen riddles (koans) is to give you an unsolvable mental task to focus on when you don't have a physical task to perform. I have a book of them, but they're so steeped in ancient Japanese culture that I don't understand them very well to begin with. (Everyone knows the "one hand clapping" one, though.)

It's a lot harder to detach from physical pain. I remember doing a lot of puzzles while my broken foot was healing, but I don't think my attempted zenlike state of mind put much of a dent in the pain.

Posted by: Julie at April 6, 2006 9:36 AM

Suffering isn't an activity, or shouldn't be (I know some people make a hobby of it) - it's a state of mind. So there is no conflict.

I was thinking the same thing (and I agree that some people make suffering a hobby, which is sad and scary all at the same time).

Most times when I'm swimming laps, I zone out and it's wonderful. It's at times like that I truly understand what it means to "free your mind."

So the "one hand clapping" thing is supposed to be unsolvable? Good! I feel better about my intellectual capacity now!

Posted by: Patti M. at April 6, 2006 10:42 AM

Yeah, yeah, Julie, I know that. When I was very young I was taught to meditate through pain.

I guess, because I have seen so many children die in the last few years, I question how a parent can be mindful at that time. I have contempt for people who make a habit of "suffering" when there are people actually suffering, but I am talking about people who are suffering the deepest pain a human can feel.

So they are supposed to be mindful while washing the dishes, vacuuming the carpet, paying the bills... ugh. And when there are no more physical tasks to perform, they turn their mind to meditation. What emptiness. I see its value, I do. I know a person who has read extensively about the subject and who practices meditation every day, and it has helped him immensely with physical pain and many other aspects of his life.

I see the value, but I don't think I'd want to start practicing it until I had nothing left, because it seems to take too much away.

Posted by: Maggie at April 6, 2006 11:25 AM

My understanding of Buddhism is limited, but isn't part of the teaching explicitly to detatch from worldly things?

If you lose your attachment to your loved ones, I assume it's a little less traumatic when they die.

Perhaps this is a misconception about Buddhist thought, or at least an oversimplification.

Posted by: James at April 6, 2006 11:59 AM

I'd like to lose my attachment to the mounting pile of paperwork on my desk. I wonder if I can om my way out of this...

Posted by: Patti M. at April 6, 2006 12:23 PM

Sorry, Maggie, I thought the "suffering" you were talking about was related to your recent bug. I had no idea you were thinking about the death of a child.

Yes, it's about detaching from worldly things. That doesn't mean you don't get attached to your family, but thinking about how they've passed on into a new life is supposed to help you detach when the time comes.

From what I've seen, that only helps Buddhists as much as the concept of heaven helps Christians, but there's nothing uniquely Buddhist about the idea of putting one foot in front of the other, vacuuming and paying your bills, until you can feel normal again. Which is a lot like mindfulness, except I think you're supposed to revel in the richness of each mundane experience.

So, you can have and enjoy the things and people in your life, but an attachment to them will cause you some type of suffering. That's not immoral or a "sin," it's just a decision you make knowing that there will be some consequences.

I don't know how Buddhism deals with family ties, since attachment is sort of a must in raising children, but you pretty much have to become a monk or nun in order to detach to that degree. Then you can't have a lover, a child, or any possessions. At some monastaries, they make products or host retreats to bring in money, but other monastaries make trips into town to beg for food, during which I suppose their mindfulness helps them enjoy the richness of the moment. That's far more mindfulness than I'd care to experience at this point in my life, though.

Posted by: Julie at April 6, 2006 12:34 PM

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