Multitasking and Listening – an Impossible Journey

The other day I was in a training seminar when I noticed a few fellow students (about a generation younger than me) texting on their handheld mobile devices while the presenter was talking. After a about 30 minutes of this I had enough. I interrupted the presenter and challenged the texters by claiming that it is impossible to intently listen while doing whatever they were doing on their Crackberrys. They claimed that they could and they do it all the time. I belive that multitasking and listening to one person is impossible.

In the work that I do interviewing people at LifeStories Alive , I  know I must intently listen with my whole mind and body in order to know and follow what the interviewee is saying and feeling. My young counterparts in the class I mentioned above claim that I’m just old and they have the skills to accomplish the task (or multitask). After viewing the PBS video Distracted By Everything , I believe the students truly think they can pay attention while multitasking, but what they are really doing are a few things all not very well, all at the same time.

I know I cannot change the trends of the younger generation and their multitasking. But I can ask that others to simply respect a speaker by not being distracted with other tasks. Empathy is a great motivator. I’ve been in front of a group and know when individuals in the group are not paying attention. It hurts. Texting or looking at something else shows lack of interest and, more importantly, lack of respect. While it’s tough to stay focused and pay attention to someone else talking, I think it’s the only way to learn.

P.S. How many of you readers checked an email or did something else while reading this? Oh, forget it…I’ll never know!

“Get To Work On The Nets”

It had been a while since I watched the video of Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture but I did so this evening. For those who haven’t seen it, it will move you and, perhaps, change your life. In a nutshell, Randy Pausch, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University had been given six months to live due to his pancreatic cancer. So this well-respected professor, loving husband and father of three children delivered what he knew was going to be his last lecture.

What I found in it was mostly not what I thought I would find in it…it was better. In a July 25, 2008 online article published by ABC’s Good Morning America announcing Randy’s death he is quoted as saying, “I mean, the metaphor I’ve used is … somebody’s going to push my family off a cliff pretty soon, and I won’t be there to catch them. And that breaks my heart. But I have some time to sew some nets to cushion the fall. So, I can curl up in a ball and cry, or I can get to work on the nets.” Wow!

In a way, Randy was given a precious gift…the gift of knowing his days on earth were going to be over soon. It’s a gift because he got to say goodbye in a way that he chose. Not many of us will be given that gift, that ability to plan for our goodbyes; our delivery of our lessons to be left behind; our own Last Lecture. Because of that, I recommend we all begin today to “… get to work on the nets.” I know I will.

Thank you, Randy. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have some net weaving to do.