Background Noise

I am very easily distracted.

I hear about this thing that lots of other people apparently do, which is “put the television on in the background for noise.” This utterly baffles me. I don’t have the ability. If I wander through a room where a screen is showing something, I’m either immediately utterly engrossed in it, or sometimes I manage to tune it out to the point where I don’t even register it was there. There’s no middle ground.

I can’t “half-watch” something. If I want to watch a movie, that’s what’s happening. If you say something to me while I’m watching the movie, I won’t remember what you said. If it’s important, my wife has to pause the movie and let me mentally switch gears in order to retain what she tells me.

If I try to listen to a podcast or an audiobook while driving, I won’t crash or anything, but I will absolutely miss turns and exits. I can only do those things when I’m on long drives where I won’t have to make any active decisions for the duration.

My brain just can’t seem to process multiple sources of information at once. My family jokes about it – even simple questions like “what do you want from the pizza place,” I’m incapable of answering if they ask while the TV is on, even if I’m not the one watching it. Either my full attention is being paid to the information source, or my full attention is being used to ignore it.

The information processing part of my brain is apparently a one-lane highway.

The benefit of that is that when I focus on something, I focus on it. I’m a laser when I’m in the zone on a particular task. The downside is that my house burned down while I was working on something else I’m not sure I’d notice.

It’s definitely a shame. I’d love to listen to more podcasts, and I audiobooks are often suggested to me when I say I’d like to read more, but I’ve just never learned how to do those things while doing something else. I once tried to put a podcast on while I was fixing something, and when I was done I realized that the podcast had ended and I couldn’t remember a single word.

This might just be one of my (many) flaws that has no fix, but I’m open to suggestions if anyone has good tips for either when to listen to these things (like activities I might be doing on auto-pilot that I don’t realize are good opportunities) or just techniques for focusing on more than one thing at a time in a way that actually allows the absorption of information. Give me your secrets, TV-on-in-the-background people!

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