Attention…Are Your Children Blackberry Orphans?

by Marianne Richmond on December 9, 2006

The Wall Street Journal paints a picture of Blackberry addicted, "furtive thumb typing" parents hiding in closets to check their email while their resentful, ignored children track them down. They warn, "There is a new member of the family, and, like all new siblings, this one is getting a disproportionate amount of attention, resulting in jealousy, tantrums, even trips to the therapist." OMG, not a trip to the therapist!

The WSJ consulted with mental health professionals, experts in obsessive compulsive disorder, to provide a 12-step program that skipped the, "Hi, my name is Mom and I am powerless and my life is unmanageable" part and went straight to that perennial target of parental guilt, meal time: #1 During meals, do not check email.

Some highlights of the other 11, written with all the right self help, empowerment words such as "commit to stop" and "endeavor to leave" are: Don’t hide your email habits from your family, don’t email while driving, when attending functions at your child’s school, when talking to your kids. Uh-huh….I see. Glad to have that pointed out.

Well, let me say first of all, I don’t have a Blackberry although I am frequently reviewing the possibility and the choices in PDA phones….perhaps I am only addicted to the concept of owning a Blackberry at this point and obsessed with the thought that when I finally make THE big decision, it will be a considered one. Hmmmm, maybe I do have OCD tendencies after all.

Second of all, I guess one issue I have with the WSJ article is with sentences such as these:

The refusal of parents to follow a few simple rules is pushing some children to the brink.

Emma Colonna wishes her parents would behave, at least when they’re out in public

Still, like teenagers sneaking cigarettes behind school, parents are secretly rebelling against the rules.

….how kids are fighting back.

 Although I admit to attention guilt when it comes to my children, I am uncomfortable with the thought that they are making the household rules, even though it feels at times as if they do; and that I am the misbehaving child because I am checking my email. Further, although I don’t feel that I am powerless, it is challenging to manage the allocation of time when there are so many demands on it simultaneously. Does that make us addicts?

 If we just take a brief snapshot of yesterday afternoon for instance, one of my sons had to be picked up from basketball practice at 5:30 while the other one had a basketball game for me to attend that started at 5:30; at 4:15, after promising a client that I would be downtown no later than 4:15 because I would end my 3:00 call at 3:30, I was in my car driving downtown with the presentation that he needed to look at for next Thursday because I was leaving town on Sunday night through Wednesday night….and my elderly mother needs her pills at 6:30 PM; oh and both of my sons left their mobile phones, purchased ostensibly for logistic coordination not texting their friends, at home. Not complaining, it is just life. The WSJ article even acknowledges that it is a struggle to find balance and that mobile email can allow parents to attend a soccer game in the middle of the day.

The issue is really, attention, interruptions, and keeping up…. Linda Stone names the problem: continuous partial attention. Her definition: "To pay continuous partial attention is to pay partial attention — CONTINUOUSLY."  In other words, everyday we are doing lots of things, but none of them as well as we would like to because nothing has our undivided attention.ÂÂ

Scott Berkun, author of The Art of Project Management warns in a wonderful blog post titled, Attention and Sex, "There isn’t a single great work in the history of civilization, no novel, symphony, film, or song that was completed as a 1/5th time-slice between e-mail, IM, cellphones and television."

But, we are on overload. As Kathy Sierra writes, "And we’re all feeling the enormous weight of not being able to keep up. We can’t keep up with work. We can’t keep up with our social life. We can’t keep up with the industry, our hobbies, our families. We can’t keep up with current events. We’ll never read a fraction of those books on our list. And we are hurting."

Of course, this was written in a post that was called, The Asymptotic Twitter Curve. And regarding Twitter, she writes, "But email, IMs, social networking, and blogs are nothing compared to the thing that may finally cause time as we know it to cease. I’m talking, of course, about Twitter." Ah, Twitter…where does it fit?

Linda Stone has recently set up a wikki and says,

"I believe attention is the most powerful tool of the human spirit.  We can enhance or augment our attention with practices like meditation and exercise, with technologies like email and Blackberries, or alter it with pharmaceuticals.  In the end, though, we are fully responsible for how we choose to use this extraordinary tool."ÂÂ

Kathy Sierra has a list and also suggests 43 Folders, Lifehacker and Steve Pavlina.

Scott Berkun says, " Make a list of all the things you read, check, skim, or browse every day (Include every gadget or device you use once a day). Make a second list of why you’re spending your attention on them. What are you trying to achieve or feel? Rank the first list based on the second. Then cut the first list in half or by one-third and see what happens."

So, where does this leave us: Are we helpless addicts or responsible masters of our attention fate (or even, first mates)?

As an aside, Valleywag suggests other ways besides the Blackberry to "abuse" your children with gadgets…for mine: "Merry Christmas! It’s a Zune!"

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