Multi-tasking and Defending John McCain

Article by Lauren Rosewarne /
The Conversation /
September 08, 2013 /

Click here to view original /


When discussing pain, my brother has a habit of likening every malady to childbirth. So intense is his agony. Dad’s approach is a tad less histrionic. His test centres on whether something hurts more or less than watching Dinner for Schmucks.

Sure, it’s an example of the Americans unceremoniously urinating over a perfectly wonderful French film, but it’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve seen.

Key in Dad’s telling of this war story however, is his standard addition, “Lauren was playing with her phone the whole time. It was that bad.”

Apparently this somehow demonstrated our shared trauma.

Playing with my phone – during that screening, but in general – is less about boredom and more that I think few films require that much concentration. Unless there are subtitles, unless it’s The Wire, most films and TV shows can afford the audience looking away every so often.

Surely a little distraction is no real indictment? Surely watching, unblinkingly for 90 minutes, is no clearer sign of a stimulated and satisfied viewer?

These issues crashed together in my mind earlier in the week.

I’m living, temporarily, in the US and Closed Circuit opened recently. I went along and, as the credits rolled, I realised I’d not reached for my phone. Not once. I left the cinema having no idea what time it was. It was like going to the cinema on rare occasions as a child. Of having to find my land-legs again, of being suddenly blinded by the daylight.

I enjoyed the film. A lot. But was this the reason I forgot about the world outside for an hour and a half?

The day after Closed Circuit I woke up to the news reporting on John McCain playing poker on his iPhone during the Senate Syria hearings.

A sign, apparently, of disrespect. Of him being bored. Of him not giving his full attention to such lofty matters.

The press, unsurprisingly, similarly pounced on Obama over the weekend for daring to play golf after his Syria press conference. God forbid that a person can do more than angst about world affairs.

Like McCain, I am always doing something else during meetings. It might be playing with my phone, it might be doodling, it might be folding origami boxes. I don’t sit still well, I get bored easily. This does not mean I’m not paying attention.

Despite my fiddlin’, I can recount all the boring malarkey that transpired in a given meeting – I can answer each of those this’ll-catch-her-out questions from my colleagues – because, in line with research on doodling, OMG I can do more than one thing at a time.

I did some training last year and a thoroughly hideous person running the scam told me off for having my phone on the table in front of me. A few Christmases ago, an uncle did the same thing when I began peeling a label off an empty wine bottle. Neither will ever be forgiven. I knew that this was more about their concentration abilities than mine, but it grated each time. In the trainer’s case, it demonstrated a thoroughly – and laughable – disregard for the reality that securing a tech-free classroom of adult-learners was a) hilarious, and much more importantly, b) no more likely to guarantee our interest in her content. (In my uncle’s case, it just demonstrated that he’s a dickhead).

McCain took the criticism with a grain of salt. Rightly so. He sent a facetious Tweet just as I smiled at the trainer as though she were someone else’s petulant child that I could soon walk away from.

Closed Circuit was great. Even in spite of Eric Bana’s patchy accent. Probably not great enough to compel me to keep my eyes fixed on the screen. A different time zone and knowing most of my world was fast asleep likely explained that.

© Lauren Rosewarne