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Archive for November, 2009

Apparently, Gen X has become the forgotten child of the stalled economic engine, stuck between the Baby Boom and Gen Y.

According to recent research by the Pew Research Center, slightly over half of middle aged workers say they are planning to delay their retirement. You can blame it on the recession and tanking IRAs. But what it means for Gen Xers is that there will be fewer places at the head of the table. And thanks to do-it-cheaper Gen Y’s, very few new seats at the foot. Women may be in the biggest pickle of all.

According to an Associated Press story, those workers who came of age with the Brady Bunch are experiencing new levels of workplace angst:

They’re antsy and edgy, tired of waiting for promotion opportunities at work as their elders put off retirement. A good number of them are just waiting for the economy to pick up so they can hop to the next job, find something more fulfilling and get what they think they deserve. Oh, and they want work-life balance, too.

Sounds like Gen Y, the so-called “entitlement generation,” right?

Not necessarily, say people who track the generations. In these hard times, they’re also hearing strong rumblings of discontent from Generation X. They’re the 32- to 44-year-olds who are wedged between baby boomers and their children, often feeling like forgotten middle siblings — and increasingly restless at work as a result.

It becomes even more complicated for Gen-X women, often navigating unfamliar turf when it comes to the workplace, who have to scramble for any place at the table, as we’ve noted here :

Sure, we women do school well. University structures, especially, support the way we learn and succeed. Overachievers? High expectations? Duly noted and rewarded. But once we get to the workplace? Different kind of rules.

Let’s face it. We missed the socialization. From ancient times, men have been raised to know their job is to slay the dragons, and that they will be alone in doing it. American mythology, too, teaches men that their role is to go, seek and conquer. For generations, men’s roles have been predetermined, and unquestioned: They provide. And workplace — and social — structures have evolved to support the model.

For women, though, relatively new to this world of work, roles are still in flux. We never learned to slay the dragon — we were the pretty princesses waiting back there in the castle — and often, we’re a little confused by the messy nature of reality as opposed to the comfortable fit of school. And so we’re flummoxed. Overwhelmed. We’re feeling our way. Where do we fit in? How do we fit in? Should we fit in?

Then, there’s this: Gen X women are often the ones struggling mightily with work-life issues, figuring out how to balance career and family:

… many women are in a place where they have young children or have begun to think about starting a family. Suddenly, career choice becomes a matter of careful and excruciating calculation: Women raised to be masters of the universe –but still seeking the flexibility to raise their kids – are pulled in opposite directions: Meaningful career? Meaningful family life? Choices become crucial: how will we find that niche that will allow us to find satisfaction on both ends? What if we don’t? Maybe we came up expecting to achieve the male model of success; now we realize it’s impossible. Or we’re agonized and guilty because, with all this grand, amorphous opportunity, we find we don’t want that model of success anymore.

Finally, we’ve pointed out that, when it comes to family, these very same women are often judged in ways that their brothers are not:

Let’s also acknowledge that one of the most significant cons of having children might be the impact on a woman’s career; moms with young children are often passed over for promotions, while childless women of childbearing age are often passed over as well, on the grounds that they’ll likely have children soon. Despite the fact that fathers’ roles have begun to change as they’ve become more involved in child-rearing, work-life balance is still considered a women’s issue. And yet. A recent study by Lancaster University prof Dr. Caroline Gatrell found that some employers see their female employees who don’t want children as wanting in some “essential humanity,” and view them as “cold, odd and somehow emotionally deficient in an almost dangerous way that leads to them being excluded from promotions that would place them in charge of others.”

No wonder the discontent is growing: Promotion? Unlikely. Jump ship? Gotta compete with the new kids, who are cheaper to hire, and more tech savvy anyhow.

On the other hand, the AP story suggests all is not lost for the X-ers — so long as they are willing to do a little reinvention — and pimp out their years of experience for newbie wages:

Jon Anne Willow, co-publisher of ThirdCoastDigest.com, an online arts and culture site in Milwaukee, is among employers who’ve recently been able to hire more experienced candidates for jobs traditionally filled by 20somethings.

They’re hungry to work, she says. And as she sees it, that gives her fellow Gen Xers and the baby boomers she’s hired a distinct advantage over a lot of the Gen Yers she’s come across.

“When the dust settles, they’ll be exactly as they were before and we’ll just have to sift through them and take the ones that actually get it and hope the rest find employment in fast food,” she quips.

Swell. Should you stay? Should you go? Call it a Gen X sandwich, with a hefty dollop of indecision on the side.

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It’s great to have options. But dealing with them can be a bitch.

Or so we like to say. That’s our very tag line, but, because today marks our 100th post–and is also, coincidentally, the day before the great beige food binge, I’m feeling a little sentimental and thought it would be an appropriate time to give up the but, and offer some musings on gratitude.

I’ll admit, I have a lot of big buts in my life. We all do. Especially when it comes to choices. I can’t tell you how many times, in interviews we’ve conducted for the book and conversations with friends and strangers about the book, women have expressed that very sentiment: I mean, I’m grateful to have all these choices, but… Or the slightly more optimistic: I feel blessed to have all these opportunities that women a couple generations ago didn’t, but…

One of the more scientific pieces of research that’s informed a lot of what we’re doing is Barry Schwartz’s The Paradox of Choice. (Read some of what we’ve written about it here.) I got to thinking about Schwartz again today, after coming across this piece, The Psychology of Happiness, by Elfren Sicangco Cruz. In it, Cruz writes:

In his book The Paradox of Choice, Barry Schwartz asserts that, paradoxically, happiness may lie in limiting our choices rather than increasing them. He says: “After millions of years of survival based on simple distinctions, it may simply be that we are biologically unprepared for the number of choices we face in the modern world.”

We’ve all lived the truth of that statement, but, as much as we moan and groan, kvetch and complain, no matter how overwhelmed we can be by all the analyzing, all the fantasizing over the grass we’re so sure is greener, all the musings over what we’re NOT doing, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find a woman that would really choose to go back to a time when women had no choices, or severely limited choices, or choices that were made for them–probably by the prominent man in her life. So, to the prospect of limiting our choices, I say: no thank you very much.

But.

This I can get behind:

Schwartz recommends that because more choices bring more opportunities for comparison, the recipe for happiness is twofold. First, make your decision irreversible. Second, constantly appreciate the life you have… Grateful people are healthier, happier, and more optimistic than people who are not.

Again, I’m not so down with the making of the decisions irreversible thing. Despite the angst it can cause, I like the security of knowing that if I blow it and pick Door Number One when I should have gone with Door Number Two, I can always try again.

But.

The gratitude, I can get behind. So maybe, in honor of Thanksgiving, we should give it a try. Maybe, for just one day, rather than being agonized by all the things we can do, we should try to be thankful that we CAN do them at all. Maybe, rather than focusing on the overwhelm of getting it all done, we should try to be thankful that we are empowered enough even to attempt it. (And that, some days, the stars align and our to-do lists actually wind up with more things crossed off than added on.) Maybe, rather than holding up the buffet line, debating the relative merits of dark, light, or tofurkey, we should just say the hell with it, and be thankful that this is one day when we really can have it all. And stuffing and sweet potatoes and gravy and pumpkin pie…

Just hold the whip cream. It goes straight to my but.

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Back in 1998, three protofeminist powerhouses of rhythm and blues collaborated on a take-no-prisoners album called “Sing It!”.

The three included swamp-rocker Marcia Ball, famous for her saucy singing and possibly the best roadhouse piano since Professor Longhair; the revered Irma Thomas, the Grammy-award winning “Soul Queen of New Orleans”, long an idol of the other two; and Tracy Nelson, former front-woman for Mother Earth, who can mix country, roots, R and B and Gospel with a voice that cuts clean to your soul. Incredibly strong role models for women everywhere , these three are loud, proud and if you’ve never heard of them, it’s only because you didn’t grow up in our house — or you’ve been forgetting to go to JazzFest.

As incredibly talented as each of these women are on their own, their Grammy-nominated collaboration cranked it all up in an explosive and high-spirited celebration of what strong women can do when they come together to claim their voice. Too often we forget that.

I flashed on “Sing It!” today when I came across a reference to San Francisco’s Department on the Status of Women in a letter to the editor in the SF Chronicle. The writers of the letter, like most of us, were quick to point out the inequity in what the numbers tell us look like workplace equality. But they upped the ante considerably by not just complaining, but by issuing a compelling call to join them in concrete action:

Businesses need to recognize that in 2009, women became 50 percent of the workforce and made 85 percent of the consumer spending decisions.

To ignore these facts is just bad business. Studies indicate that embracing gender and racial diversity helps the bottom line.

Working with Calvert Group, LTD, a socially responsible mutual fund, and Verité, an international human rights organization, this crew has been working to develop a set of gender equity prinicples backed by a corresponding set of metrics by which a company can gauge its progress when it comes to the advancement of women in the workplace:

Together, we are producing tools and resources that will help businesses stop bemoaning the fact that there are too few women at the top and do something about it.

To embrace women from the factory floor to the boardroom, the principles are creating indicators and resources in seven categories to help build gender-equitable workplaces. One of those categories is the lack of women in management and on boards of directors.

You have to love the principles, which address everything from compensation and benefits to worklife balance and career development. And the tools, too. Whether or not they will go viral, who knows? What I like most is that the plan goes beyond bemoaning and involves collective action for making change on the systemic, or institutional, level. Maybe this is all about enlightened self-interest for the folks up there in the boardroom. But it reminds those of us on the middle floors that we have a voice — and the power that comes with it.

It’s all too easy to look at inequities and bad numbers and see ourselves as victims of a patriarchal society, as voiceless and powerless. Some of us do get riled up — nothing like anger for a wake-up call — but unless that anger translates into constructive action, who cares? We’re back in our seats. And for some of us, if we are told too often that we have no voice, well, does that become self-fulfilling prophecy? Do we silence ourselves?

And is that when, especially when it comes to the culture of the workplace, we see choices as burden rather than opportunity?

Writing on Women on business, blogger Jane Stimmler suggests it doesn’t have to be that way. Her take on the problem is that as we’ve assumed new roles, and grasped new opportunities, we’ve taken on the “new” without realizing we have to shed some of the “old.”:

As long as women’s choices involve tacking on new duties to an already demanding and hectic lifestyle, there cannot be the fundamental shift to equality. I am reminded of the many stories I have heard about women in the workplace who are given added job responsibilities – but they don’t receive the title or the raise. For women to be happier with their lives, we don’t need fewer choices – we need more support and encouragement.

In other words, we need to reclaim our voice. Which brings me back to Marcia, Irma and Tracy. Next time you’re feeling overworked and underpaid — or too damn tired for the secnd shift — go in there, sister, and sing it!  And remember when you do that fifty percent of the workforce is right there with ya, doing some killer back-up.

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Late last week, I caught up with M., a young woman–a New York transplant a couple of years into post-collegiate life–we’re profiling in the book, fresh off the heels of a major decision. As she downloaded the details, so much of what she said about her choice–to leave a great job with a major brand in the field she’d always thought she wanted to be in–rang true. Here’s a bit from M:

It was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever made because I knew in my gut that I was unhappy, but on paper it made a lot of sense for me to keep working there. I had good health insurance, I was making a good salary, I had a steady job, but I was just unhappy and to make a choice based on my feelings versus what logically made sense was really difficult.

Feelings. They’re so – well, touchy feely. Hard to quantify. They look so woefully wimpy on a list, lined up against numbers and facts and figures. Like they’re somehow less real. And yet – if happiness, satisfaction, a sense of purpose, and other, you know, feelings are what we’re after, it shouldn’t seem so outrageous to base our decisions on them. But it can — if you’ll pardon the choice of word — feel outrageous. Irresponsible. Silly. And when it comes down to the choice that looks good on paper versus the one that feels right in our heart, choosing the one that feels right over the one that’s arguably right can feel kinda wrong.

Back to M, who aggressively went on the prowl for a new gig, and was rewarded with a couple of job offers (two of which came on the same day), all of which came complete with their own sets of pros and cons. But ultimately, in analyzing the facts, she realized that what it all came down to was feelings.

It wasn’t necessarily a matter of being worried that, oh no, I have no options, I was like, okay, I have worked really hard to put options in front of myself now I have to make a choice where I just put so much effort into making sure I put before me as many avenues as possible, but then, there I was, stuck having to make a choice.  That was really difficult for me, and since I’ve been in my 20s the big choice I made was to move to New York, and since then I’ve felt like I was just making very small choices. And this was going to be my first really big, life-changing decision since then. So, it was extremely difficult and I can tell you honestly that I put a lot of grey hair on both my parents’ heads and my poor boyfriend–I can’t tell you how many times we sat there with pros and cons lists that I had him talk me through.

It’s hard to adjust to being a grown-up and realizing that the repercussions of your choices mean so much more, so I think it was really hard for [my parents] you know, they wanted to help me in the ways they always have as parents. They wanted to be like, it’s gonna be all right and we’ll take care of it for you. The thing is they just at this point had to be council, and I had to figure it out because, at the end of the day it was me that was gonna take care of me, and if I screwed up I was the one who was gonna deal with the repercussions.

It came down to the fact that I was unhappy, and I would start to think about what my life would be like in these new decisions, and just what made me feel less anxious and what made me feel happy.

M’s story hits on a bunch of things: How relatively new it is for us women to be in charge of our own lives, and the decisions that design them. And how, the reasoning skills, the objective ways we’re often taught to approach decisions, don’t–can’t–take into account what’s most important, when it comes down to what’s going to make us happy: how we really feel.

M’s tale has a happy ending: she loves her new job. The one, she says, she’d “never in a million years imagined doing.” But she does have one regret:

I regret that I didn’t take the time to really reflect earlier. I just spent so much time I think pushing away my feelings and pushing away, hey, what is it that I really want to be, because it was going to be tough, and then it took me being really unhappy at work to stop and reflect: okay, what are you gonna do with your future?

It shouldn’t take a bout of extreme unhappiness for us to give our feelings the weight they deserve, but so often it does. And it shouldn’t seem such a daunting task to confront them, either, but so often it does. And the funny thing is, maybe if we could learn how to listen to them, to trust them, to value them, they might be the one thing that can make our decisions easier. And wouldn’t that feel good?

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So, the other day I rambled on about all the distractions that come with uber-connection. And, if we were to be honest, we would all admit that one of them has to do with cybershopping. Sigh. One of the clutters in the inbox comes in the form of seductive ads for shoes, dresses, “outerwear” (why can’t we just say coats?), you name it. All tantalizing us with pretty pictures of skinny models in clothes we may never wear, special online discounts, and real or imaginary deadlines.

Really, we have work we should be doing, but then there’s the seduction: Buy now! You too can be a fashionista! Free shipping! On sale for the next five minutes only!

And so you bite. (Or don’t. But wish you had.) And then that yellow dress flies into your mailbox and your credit card lives to regret it. If only you could have tried it on first. Trust me, I will get a little more substantive in a minute here. But first:

Just this week I came across a tech piece in the SF Chronicle about a bunch of new websites that use “augmented reality” (don’t ask) to allow you try on your online purchases out there in cyberspace. Basically, you can try out that cute little frock online — and maybe even mosey onto facebook to see what your friends think — before you plunk down the plastic. Genius? Maybe. Stay tuned for serious.

You have to wonder how great it would be if real life were like that, especially when we’re dealing with the big choice Q’s: What should I do with my life? Where will I fit? What would it be like to walk in those other shoes? Can I try before I commit?

Look to the big picture, and you realize that in unexpected ways, we all can — and do — try our callings on for size. Here’s just one hint. A 2002 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics drew a longitudinal picture of younger baby boomers (born between 1957 and 1964) showing that they held an average of about 10 different jobs between 18 and 36. Most studies show that younger workers are even more mobile.

For example, a Business Week article dating from this past summer, found that, for workers under 30:

Corporate commitment has dwindled, tenure has grown far shorter, and people switch jobs with much greater frequency. The average American changes jobs once every three years; those under the age of 30 change jobs once a year.

Trying jobs on for size? Not such a bad idea, when you think of it.

Here’s a hint, too, that maybe we’re trying on new roles at home as well. The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the homefront reversals resulting from the economic downturn — some have begun calling it a “he-cession” — with women poised to become the majority of the workforce. What that has meant is that in many families, mom flies out the door with the briefcase while dad stays home with the kids. While the workplace parity has not resulted in economic parity — as we’ve reported here, here and here — there may be an unintended consequence:

Stephanie Coontz, a professor at Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash., who has written extensively about the history of marriage, says that the shift in spousal roles in some families could have a lasting impact. “The silver lining here may be that men now get a little more experience under their belt in terms of actually being the experts at home,” she said. “When the economy recovers, we may find a little boost towards men and women sharing these roles.”

Finally, there’s this. (Journalists tend to write in terms of threes. Old habits die hard) Examiner.com posted a column thursday in which Gen Y women gave thanks for all the ceilings that their strong female role models shattered for them, enabling them to try on the opportunities their mothers never had. As one 24-year-old woman wrote:

This year I am most thankful for the opportunity to have a career as a woman. Going back many generations, my family is full of strong and ambitious women, from my ancestor who came over during the potato famine to my grandmother who had a successful modeling career and raised a family. My mother was the first in her family to get a college degree. I feel thankful there is no longer any question that I could go to college and have a career. My parents pushed me to get an education and supported me as I moved away from home, which many women in my mom’s generation would not have really considered. Now the canvas of the world feels much more available for women.

Sure, you could spin a lot of this in terms of the half-empty glass. But I choose half-full. Yeah, choices — no matter what, no matter when — are tough. Angsty. And there’s still work to be done. Lots of it, in fact. But when you realize you’re not locked in, that life continues to evolve, maybe each individual choice — even a lousy one — doesn’t carry quite so much weight.

Meanwhile, back to that yellow dress. I confess. Mine. I was the victim of a 12 hour sale on Bluefly when I should have been doing something productive. But actually, after letting it sit in the mailing bag for several weeks, I realized it’s kinda cute after all. With those cool brown spiderweb tights that Shannon gave me last Christmas and my killer brown boots (yeah, I found those online, too), it might be just the ticket for Thanksgiving.

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Marcus Buckingham has done it again. In this week’s HuffPo installment, Buckingham gets started by citing Time magazine’s special on the State of Women as saying that the gender war is over, and it was a tie. But Buckingham takes it one step further:

I’m not so sure. In a war, no matter the outcome of a certain skirmish or battle, the winner is the party whose attitudes, behaviors and preoccupations come to dominate the postwar landscape. By this measure, the outcome of the gender wars, if wars they were, is clear: women won.

He makes his case by saying that “men’s attitudes more and more resemble women’s attitudes”, citing the fact that fewer men now believe that men should be the breadwinners, women the caretakers, than did in 1977. He says that “men’s behaviors are becoming more and more like women’s”, using the fact that men now do more housework than they did in 1977 as evidence. He even cites popular culture:

Even our entertainment heroes have lost their masculine muscle. Arnold, Bruce, and Stallone are long gone from the screen, but even the flirty, flaky, funny adolescents–Tom, Brad, Jim, and Will–no longer charm us quite as much as they once did. Instead our leading men are the likes of Zac Efron who, though he can still “Michael Jordan” it on the court, now has to sing and dance charmingly to earn our affection.

Um, okayyyy. But here’s where it gets interesting:

The war is over. Women won. And, as ever, to the victor go the spoils.

And what are the spoils of this particular war?

The spoils are choice. Women have more choice than ever before in their work, home, and lifestyles. And yes, men are becoming more like women, and so men are starting to face the same multitude of choices that women tackle.

Today, with many companies offering paternal leave, men now have the choice to stay at home after the birth of their newborn… But they also have the choice to take advantage of this leave and stay at home wondering whether or not this absence will hurt their careers.

Men have the choice to stay at home even longer and assume the chief caregiver role… But they have to face the fact that, in making this choice, their skills might become obsolete and their wages, when they re-enter the workforce, will wind up reflecting their out-of-date proficiency.

Men have the choice to arrange their schedules so they can pick up the kids from school twice a week. And they have the choice not to, and then to feel guilty about this choice.

The choice-filled world that women have bestowed on men is a tough world. Tough on women; even tougher on men. At least that’s what the data reveal. In 1977, 41 percent of women reported feeling some level of work/life conflict, whereas only 35% of men did. Today, about the same percentage of women report work/life conflict, but 59 percent of men are now similarly torn.

Buckingham, Buckingham, Buckingham. Welcome to our world. While what he has to say about our choices is interesting (as is his use of self-reported statistics to back up his points), what’s more interesting is what he doesn’t say. Like this:

A study in the current issue of The Academy of Management Journal reveals that bosses generally perceive women workers to have more family-work conflict than men, even though this isn’t the case. And this belief, mistaken though it is, leads supervisors to take a negative view of women employees’ suitability for promotion.

Or this, from the Economix blog at the New York Times‘ web site:

In most jobs, the gap between men’s and women’s earnings narrows greatly when you adjust for factors like career path and experience. But at the top of the income scale–jobs paying more than $100,000–the salary gap between equally qualified men and women is still vast.

Or this, which Laura Liswood, co-founder of the Council of Women World Leaders, wrote yesterday:

In its annual measurement of global progress in the lives of women and girls, released October 27, 2009, the World Economic Forum reported some major improvements in surprising places. The 2009 Global Gender Gap Report–which, country by country, examines data indicating the resources and status of women compared to men–ranks Lesotho, for example, in the top 10, a marked improvement from its place at 16 last year and 43 in 2006. By contrast, the United States moved down three slots last year and now ranks 31st.

In terms of why you might be a little irritated by that, feel free to pick your poison: that the U.S. is ranked 31st, or that we moved down three slots last year. I myself am having a little of both. Liswood spells out the characteristics of our grouping thus:

Group III Gaps in these countries (including the United States and United Kingdom) have been almost completely closed in education and health; progress is occurring on economic and political participation. What is lagging is women’s presence at the highest levels of power be it management of a business or head of state or government or parliament. Countries that adopt quotas for business or politics often see an immediate jump in their standing once these mechanisms kick in.

Ooh, quotas. Scary. But why should we be so opposed? As Latoya Peterson notes in her Jezebel piece about the report:

Norway has legislation that demands all public institutions “promote gender equity, and these efforts are to be documented each year.” The top ranking country, Iceland, passed this type of legislation back in 2000 as the Act on Equal Status and Equal Rights of Women. Finland employs an “Ombudsman for Equality, the Gender Equality Unit, and the Council for Equality” in its pursuit of gender parity. And in Sweden, there is an Ombudsman on Discrimination, as well as measures taken in schools and workplaces to ensure women do not face bias.

Why should we care what goes on in Iceland, Finland, Norway, and Sweden? They hold the top four spots in that report. The one where the U.S. ranks 31st.

Let’s read just a little more from Liswood:

Data are a necessary component to start the process of resource allocation and policy shift. Data collection alone can’t make the sea level rise, but many political and business leaders hide behind the excuse that women must ‘make the case’ for change. The case can rarely be made without information that proves what women may intuitively already know. And looking at a gender gap that has been indexed should give leaders pause if they are not fully utilizing 50 percent of their talent.

It certainly should. The thing is, if we were to proactively address the measurable inequities, like Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, then–if Buckingham’s right–everyone would stand to benefit. But where Buckingham–where the very United States–has fallen short, is in viewing it as a personal issue, an issue of behavior, or attitude, or whether Zac Ephron is cashing in at the box office… In choosing to look at such heavy decisions merely as personal dilemmas, left to each of us to handle on our own, in our own way, we are missing the point. Yes, we have choices in our lives, and it stands on each of us to make them. But they’re made harder by the lack of institutional support. The war may be over, but the battle has just begun.

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There is a point here, I promise. But first, here’s the scene. My desk, at work. A wobbly stack of books, papers and files, some dating back to last spring. A to-do list, also written last spring. On the other side of my mousepad, a pile of resumes for the letters of rec I need to write. On my computer, some 200 emails that at least have to be opened.

Plus the steady buzz of folks, either in the hall, or in my office. Kinda like a roving cocktail party, but without the booze. This is not necessarily a good thing. The latter, I mean.

My home office, not much better. At least 100 unread emails. My desk is cleaner — today — but you still never know what you’ll find. A friend once described my work-at-home digs as a junk drawer. At times, the description is apt.

On Tuesday I got up early, graded papers, scanned two newspapers, got ready for school, found and paid my Macy’s bill while my Cheerios got soggy, blew out the door and off to work, taught some classes, and met with a bunch of students who have the end-of-quarter heebie-jeebies. (They’re contagious).

Last week, we hosted a party to celebrate a friend’s engagement. Next week is Thanksgiving (Yikes! I forgot to order the turkey). It’s my husband’s and son-in-law’s birthdays. Shannon and I are knee-deep in writing this book. And this blog. My hair is stringy and I’m low on clean clothes.  So here I am.

Don’t get me wrong.  I fully realize that those balls I’ve got in the air mark me as a lucky woman.  Nonetheless, I’m somewhat breathless just itemizing all this. I’m frazzled. Distracted. And probably like you, just a little bit crazed: Too much going on, going on all at once.

Maybe it was ever so. But now, add this. The San Francisco Chronicle has reported on some new studies on the way that techno-stimulation — texts, tweets, IMs, Facebook, news alerts, the list goes on — has led to a new form of attention deficit disorder. We’re always on. Uber-connected. Addicted to short bursts of constant information. And despite our best intentions, we get sucked in. All of which, experts say, impacts our ability to analyze. From the story:

“The more we become used to just sound bites and tweets,” [Dr. Elias Aboujaoude, director of Stanford University’s Impulse Control Disorders Clinic at Stanford University] said, “the less patient we will be with more complex, more meaningful information. And I do think we might lose the ability to analyze things with any depth and nuance. Like any skill, if you don’t use it, you lose it.”

Dr. John Ratey, an associate clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, uses the term “acquired attention deficit disorder” to describe the way technology is rewiring the modern brain.

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t need to know what Suzy from Ohio is doing every five minutes. And yet. There’s the seduction of the buzz, the flash. She has me at beep-beep.

Which brings me belatedly to my point: Is all this stuff, this stimulation, this juggling, cluttering up our already cluttered brains to the point where we are not only overwhelmed — but chronically undecided?

The science suggests the answer is yes. Shannon wrote earlier on our blog about the Paradox of Choice, about how the more choices that confront us, the less likely we are to make one — or to be happy with it when we do. There’s the iconic jam study, where shoppers confronted with 24 jars of jam — versus just six — walked away empty handed. And the pivotal Magical Number Seven study, which dates back to the 1950s, that found that the human brain has trouble processing more than seven items at a time. The study was the basis for similar research in 1999 by Stanford Marketing Professor Baba Shiv, then an assistant professor at University of Iowa. He sent two groups off to memorize a series of numbers. One group had to memorize three. The other, seven. At the end of the task, the groups were given their choice of a treat: gooey chocolate cake or fruit salad. The three digit group overwhelmingly chose fruit. The seven digit group — cake. The point? Overwhelmed with the memory task, the rational brain of the seven-digit folks begged off and let the emotional side take over.

Shannon wrote recently about Zen and art of multi-tasking where, really, what we need to do when we drink tea –is to just drink tea. I wrote about the need to just play cards. Put all of this together and I think you find that maybe, for our own mental health, not to mention our ability to make decisions, we need to turn down the chatter.

Sixties guru Timothy Leary (he of LSD fame) once exhorted the youth of the day to “turn on, tune in, drop out.” I’m thinking it’s time to flip the switch: Turn off, tune out, drop in.

But wait. Did that make the slightest bit of sense? Not sure. I’m off to find some chocolate cake.

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