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I Get Interrupted, Therefore I am

Interruptions, unfortunately, have become a way of life in contemporary society. From the ultra–rude theater patrons who have no concern for everyone else and field cell phone calls, to the unwitting staff member who asks too many questions of you without consulting other sources that could provide the answer, interruptions beset us in every sphere of existence.

It seems as if we’re in an environment now where constant interruptions are the norm. How did this happen? Some places once were considered sacred: concert halls, churches, movie theaters, and even restaurants, in terms of not having one’s fellow patrons pull out cell phones and engage in calls.

Fixation Nation


People easily become fixated to the exclusion of all else on the next message that their mobile device displays. Returning from a speaking engagement last year, I had a long layover between flights, so I chose to sit in a far corner of the airport where few others would pass. As I slumped down in a chair to catch a few winks, a man standing 10 feet from me began a vigorous discussion on his cell phone. My fellow airport lounger went on and on as if I did not exist. I glared at him, but he didn’t pick up the cue. Finally, I simply left.

When, months later, I experienced nearly the same event, as politely as possible I went over to the offending party, tapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Pardon me, am I invisible to you?” He looked completely dumbfounded. He thought I was deranged, I guess. He continued talking as if I was but a mild irritant in his environment. Once again, I simply left the area.

I relate these stories not to come off as pious, but to point out, as we’ve all experienced, that individuals often act in ways contrary to their upbringing when in proximity to mobile communication devices. Apparently, they are compelled to drop or ignore all else and pay homage to “the machine.”

Interruption Corruption


The predominance of the cell phone does not fully explain why each of us has a greater propensity to interrupt others, as well as to accept the slight and the irritation of being interrupted. The opportunity to do business on the fly, connect with loved ones, or simply stay in the loop with others has subconsciously and nonverbally trumped thousands of years of basic human interaction.

Much of the intrusion that we foist upon others seems harmless enough. Being an early riser, I am often at my desk at 6 a.m. If I send you an email at 6:05, that seems harmless enough. After all, you’ll simply receive it when you receive it; who cares when I sent it? But you might have arisen at 6 a.m. yourself. You might have encountered that email hours before you needed or wanted to see it. Many others might have sent you early-morning emails as well.

Taken in full, day after day, and week after week, the number of email messages that we send and receive, on top of all the other forms of communication, adds up to a growing throng of tasks to which we feel compelled to attend, and to unfinished business that never seems to diminish in volume or frequency.

Too often, we pepper each other with too much information and communication

To Easy for Our Own Good


Our computers and mobile devices have made sending and receiving messages so simple that it’s become problematic. In his article, “The Speed of Sound,” published in Earth Light magazine, Spring 2001, author David Orr asks, “Can communication be too easy or too cheap?” Controversial for his time, Orr said, “Electronic communication is now standard in most organizations. The results, however, [are] mixed at best. The most obvious [is] a large increase in the sheer volume of stuff we receive and reply to, much of it utterly trivial.”

Orr observed, “Our conversations, thought patterns, and institutional inner clocks are increasingly shaped to fit the imperatives of technology. Not surprisingly, more and more people feel overloaded by the demands of incessant communication. But to say so publicly is to run afoul of the technological fundamentalism that is now dominant virtually everywhere.” He finished with a startling declaration: “It is time to consider the possibility that — for the most part — communication ought to be somewhat slower, more difficult, and more expensive than it is now. And, only over generations, through a process of trial and error, can knowledge eventually congeal into cultural wisdom about the art of living well within the resources, assets, and limits of a place.”

What a concept! Our missives ought to be a bit slower and a bit more difficult to achieve. It seems like a giant technological step backward, but is it? Consider the socio-cultural as well as personal benefits if everyone received half, or a third, or a quarter of the daily messages he or she now receive. I, for one, would revel in it. Even if you were reluctant at first, eventually so would you.



Jeff Davidson is "The Work-Life Balance Expert®," is a preeminent time management authority, has written 59 mainstream books, and is an electrifying professional speaker, making 806 presentations since 1985 to clients such as Kaiser Permanente, IBM, American Express, Lufthansa, Swissotel, America Online, Re/Max, USAA, Worthington Steel, and the World Bank. Jeff is Executive Director of the Breathing Space Institute; a popular speaker; and the author of books such as:
  • Simpler Living (Skyhorse Publishing)
  • The 60 Second Innovator (Adams Media)
  • Breathing Space (MasterMedia)
  • Complete Idiot's Guide to Managing Your Time (Alpha/Penguin)


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