Monday, November 10, 2008

Distractions Serial and Parallel

Some years ago I took an online test for diagnosing Attention Deficit Disorder, did not score high enough to qualify, but came close. That, plus reading about the symptoms and noticing that some were familiar from first hand observation, led me to send an email to my father and my adult son with the subject line "Did you know that we all have ADD?"

Patri replied with a learned disquisition on the proper diagnostic tests, on the basis of which we did not qualify. My father's response was "Your mother's been saying this for many years."

Patri also described to me a math professor of his at Mudd who had been diagnosed with ADD; he dealt with the problem by having multiple projects, switching from one to another when his attention flagged. That too sounded familiar. A few minutes ago I was working on a sequel to my second novel, a little before that checking how Future Imperfect was doing on Amazon (surprisingly well), before that reading about, and verifying for myself, an extraordinary bug in the Android software that runs on my G1 phone. And at the moment I'm writing a blog post. Once it's posted I'll probably check a few Usenet groups for ongoing conversations.

Two other features of my own practice may fit, in an odd way, with this. One is that I'm not very good at multi-tasking, a weakness quite striking when I am playing World of Warcraft and trying to pay attention simultaneously to what my character is doing, how much damage he has taken, what other characters are doing, and the text messages of what other characters, human and computer generated, are saying. My kids seem able to do all that while conducting one or two conversations on the side. For what may be similar reasons, I have no interest in online chat, but spend quite a lot of time reading and participating in threaded newsgroups. And the idea of instant messaging leaves me cold. I am happy to switch from one project to another, but I want to do it by my own choice, not because someone, or something, else has just demanded my attention.

All of which may also fit with a difference I noticed long ago between me and my friend and ex-colleague Richard Epstein. I argue, and think, in series; he does it in parallel. When I point out a hole in the line of argument he is pursuing his response is not to change his position, nor to try to fix the hole, but instead to point to another of the several parallel lines of argument he has running that can get him past the problem. I have no objection in principle to that as an approach to making sense of the world, but it makes my head spin.

I wonder if Richard has tried World of Warcraft.

5 Comments:

At 1:43 PM, November 10, 2008, OpenID seide said...

Hm, starting to consider whether I have it too. For two minutes ago I was writing an article, and now I am suddenly reading your blog in my blog feed.

However, one solution is simple that I have used several times: Go to a place without Internet! ;-)

...and of course, dont bring the newspaper.

 
At 2:39 PM, November 10, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazon should show another small upward blip. Still wrapping my head around heads I win, tails I win from Hidden Order, which I started a few days back. So far, it's the best pop econ I've read by a mile.

 
At 5:00 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger Isak said...

Is that common - poor multi-tasking skills among people with ADD? If anything, I would expect them to be quite good at it.

 
At 5:08 PM, November 10, 2008, Blogger David Friedman said...

Isak asks if poor multitasking skills are common among people with ADD. The short answer is that I don't know. But I gather the usual description of the syndrome involves intense focus on something for a short time, shifting to intense focus on something else, which would suggest single rather than multitasking.

 
At 9:35 AM, November 12, 2008, Blogger Karl said...

Some years ago I took an online test for diagnosing Attention Deficit Disorder, did not score high enough to qualify, but came close. That, plus reading about the symptoms and noticing that some were familiar from first hand observation, led me to send an email to my father and my adult son with the subject line "Did you know that we all have ADD?"

Patri replied with a learned disquisition on the proper diagnostic tests, on the basis of which we did not qualify. My father's response was "Your mother's been saying this for many years."


...but she was never to get my attention for long enough.

 

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