Babies and Bath Water

Many years ago, when more and more corporations were putting PCs on people’s desks, opening up access to email, the internet, and (egads!) even instant messaging, multi-tasking became a hot topic in large corporations.

A group of managers in my then-organization were sent to a training class. The class proved to them that no one is more efficient multi-tasking than performing tasks in a single-threaded fashion. This has been demonstrated over and over again in many studies since.

Yet multitasking is only increasing. We wonder aloud how we got to a place where multitasking on a smartphone has now become part of our basic social interactions. Remember when it was considered the epitome of rudeness to have a cell phone in a restaurant?

For me, multi-tasking socialization started in the work place where I often carried on multiple instant message conversations, worked on an email response, and “listened” to a conference call all at the same time.

But the behavior has carried over to my personal life in rather frightening ways. A laptop, iPhone, or iPad is always handy and my face is often pointed at one of them–my attention hopping from messages, emails, posts and often forgetting completely why I picked up a “device” in the first place.

One of the things I have said I love about photography is that it is a form of meditation. I set aside my distracting devices and focus my attention as well as my lens. When I look through the viewfinder, even more distractions are removed, limiting the view of the world to just the portion I include in my frame. The mind quiets, the chatter stops, texts go unanswered. For those moments, there is only me observing something fascinating and working to capture it.

But how to carry this focused attention over to personal relationships?

I tried an accidental experiment this weekend. I put my phone on the sleep setting, meaning it would not notify me with events from the virtual world. Then, I spent some time with my spouse. Friday night, we even went to dinner without our phones. It was a scary moment, but we managed to entertain ourselves by talking to each other.

What was interesting was how awkward it felt to know we were going to have a conversation with no access to Google. No photos to look at. No funny posts on Facebook to share. Just us talking off the tops of our heads like the internet didn’t exist. But at the end of the evening, we felt like we’d actually spent time together vs spent time in the same room.

That said, I am not about to get rid of the technology in my life. But it begs the question: if technology has contributed to new detrimental behaviors negatively impacting my relationships, productivity, and enjoyment of life, how does one extract the baby from the bathwater? It is possible to use the power of technology only for good?

Owl Prowl

As my regular readers know, I love birds.  I can’t help it.  There’s something profoundly beautiful about birds.  I love watching them maneuver in the sky completely denying gravity.  I particularly admire birds of prey.

It only follows that I would end up volunteering for the Chattanooga Audubon Society.  And, when they scheduled an owl prowl, that I would sign Pat and me up.  (Unfortunately, Tisen is not welcome on the Audubon property–it’s a wildlife preserve and domestic animals and wildlife don’t mix well.)

Pat and I arrived just before 8PM, in time to deliver a load of bird seed I’d picked up for the feeders at the visitors’ center.  Then, Kyle, the property manager, gave a presentation on owls including their “songs” to remind us what we were looking for.

Kyle had been hearing Barred Owls on the property even in the middle of the afternoon; we were confident we would at least hear one.

Kyle had also recruited an owl expert to lead the walk who was extremely good at calling the owls.  Barred Owls are known for flying in to see who’s imitating them when called.  I once went birding with a group of experts in Columbus.  We started at 5:00AM.  The leader called twice and had 4 Barred Owls show up within minutes.  It was very cool.  I think the owls were just as amused by us.

However, here, the Barred Owls must have been up too much during the day–they had no interest in checking us out although our leader called and called.  Even in the area where they were most frequently seen, they remained silent.  He also tried Screech Owls, but we were not rewarded.  As our expert pointed out, it’s best to call Screech Owls first–they won’t go near Barred Owls (because Barred Owls will eat the much smaller Screech Owl).

While a Barn Owl might also find Audubon Acres a suitable place to live (especially if it could find a way into one of the many buildings), none had been spotted on the property, so we really didn’t expect to find any of those.

While the owls were not cooperative, we had started off the walk with an Indigo Bunting catching a late-night snack at the feeder.  We also saw many spiders and bats.  At one point, we were sure there was a silent owl in a tree, but it turned out to be a young opossum.  It blinked in our bright flashlights and gradually decided to move.  We watched it with fascination as it slowly made its way down the tree trunk.  Every part of it was help perfectly straight, including its tail, as is calmly made it’s way head down the side of the tree.

At the end of the walk, the moon was shining and we stood outside chatting.  While we talked, we heard a Barred Owl calling, “Who cooks for you all?”  Or maybe it was saying, “Who are the fo-ols?”