Good. Now I have your attention

. . . for the nanosecond before you check your Facebook page.

I just read two articles about the difficulties of “single-tasking,” aka paying attention.

A cute piece in the New York Times identifies a number of problems with multi-tasking with electronic devices and quotes psychologist Kelly McGonigal who said that, “Research shows that just having a phone on the table is sufficiently distracting to reduce empathy and rapport between two people who are in conversation.”
PFOI Lauren Newell posted an article, Reclaiming Attention in the Digital Generation Negotiator, which provides more thorough scientific data about the importance of attention in negotiation and what the pre-Digital Generation (aka older folks) should understand about younger folks’ use of ICTs (aka “information and communication technologies” or “nifty thingamabobs”).  It suggests two strategies for dealing with the problems: technology breaks and meditation, though it notes that both strategies have limitations.

I do think that breaks could help – for those who have the willpower to take them.  Alas, the problem isn’t limited to the youngsters.  I confess that I usually do not have the will to turn off my email and ignore incoming messages.  And if there is a computer screen or tv in front of me, I am very easily distracted. I suspect that’s probably true for most of us.

I do think that putting away the gizmos can help (which is why some faculty prohibit laptops and other ICTs in class).  In a negotiation – or just a conversation – people can focus more if they put away their phones and don’t think about checking them so much.

I suspect that it will take a cultural shift to cause a significant change in behavior.  People may continue multi-tasking in private unless they think it isn’t cool or fun anymore.  And they may continue to be engrossed in their phones when they are with others or walking down the street unless it becomes as gauche as raucous belching in public.

John Lande is the Isidor Loeb Professor Emeritus and former director of the LLM Program in Dispute Resolution, at the University of Missouri, School of Law. He received his J.D. from Hastings College of Law and Ph.D in sociology from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is also an avid writer and contributor to Indisputably.org