Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The three beer meeting

A New York Times article recently outlined some compelling data about the dangers of distracted driving. Talking on a cell phone, even while using a hands free device, is equivalent to driving with a .08 blood alcohol content, legally drunk in most states.

Text messaging is far worse. Drivers regularly look away from the road for more than 5 consecutive seconds while sending or receiving text messages and just dialing a phone makes the possibility of an accident three times more likely. Trying to multitask is putting ourselves and others at risk.

But the intention of this article isn't to discuss safety. The issue of multitasking and limited engagement is likely affecting your athletic environment as well with staffers using PDA's to text message and check email during meetings, athletic contests, conference sessions, etc. Just look around you next time you are out of your immediate office - it's a regular occurrence.

We have incredibly short attention spans. Crackberries, the popular term for our addictive Blackberry's and iPhones, are everywhere. Consider the comments about the habit forming nature of the devices in the Times article:

"John Ratey, an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard University and a
specialist on the science of attention, explained that when people use digital
devices, they get a quick burst of adrenaline, 'a dopamine squirt.' Without it,
people grow bored with simpler activities like driving. Mr. Ratey said the
modern brain is being rewired to crave stimulation, a condition he calls
acquired attention deficit disorder. 'We need that constant pizzazz, the
reward, the intensity,' he said. "

Mundane activities are all around us - meetings, especially poorly prepared or unnecessary ones; a conference call that lasts too long or strays off point; or just walking between daily appointments. These situations require social engagement with others. And yet in all of these situations you regularly see people texting and checking email via their blackberry (ultimatesportsinsider.com is no exception).

There is a cost for this type incessant stimulation, not in an immediate manner with tragic consequences like a car accident, but in subtle, long-term ways - reduced engagement with others, wasted time, missed details, unnecessary errors and the subtle message to colleagues that says "I'm too busy for you". As the seeming social acceptability of texting, Twittering and checking email in meetings and other public settings increases, it seems worth considering that this type of multitasking may be lowering productivity to a point where it seems like we've had three beers.

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