When your ability to focus on multiple things irritates people, it’s called ADD/ADHD.
When your ability to focus on multiple things is an asset to people, it’s called multi-tasking.
Guess, what? We all have ADD! Don’t believe me? Pick one thing in life that bores you to tears. I mean serious boredom where you’d rather watch paint dry underwater than hear about it. Now go sign up for an 8 week class in that subject and try to come out with an A-. Oh and while you’re in the class, don’t text anyone, don’t check your email, no playing Angry Birds, no doodling on a piece of paper, no fantasizing about you and the attractive person 2 seats over sitting at a candlelit dinner, no thinking about what to have for dinner, no wondering what’s going to happen on your favorite tv show, no thinking about the food crumbs in the professor’s beard, no thinking about the traffic you’re going to hit on the way home, no thinking “Man it’s hot in here, I wish I had worn shorts”, no thinking about how many minutes are left until you can leave, and definitely no thinking about how reading the CWord got you into this horrible predicament in the first place.
Wow, you really can’t pay attention or focus. Sounds like you have ADD. We’d better do something about that so you can concentrate.
You, a full-grown adult are having a lot of trouble focusing on something that you don’t care about. That trouble is very apparent to the teacher who is looking right at your twitching body and 1000 yard stare. The nice part for you is you can get up and walk out at the end of class and never have to worry about the repercussions of your mental driftage. Maybe you’ll get a C instead of an A- but at least you won’t get a diagnosis out of your time in class. After all, you just didn’t give a damn about what was being taught.
Woe to the poor child who gets slapped with the ADD label in school because they don’t pay attention in certain classes. Because kids are human too and therefore have likes and dislikes, adults have to consider the fact that maybe they don’t give a damn about social studies, or math, or gym. Maybe they like science or literature or home economics instead. Or maybe their mind is elsewhere, since as you just read, it’s very easy to get distracted when immersed in things you don’t care about.
I know, teachers and doctors will cry sacrilege, that every child has to learn these subjects and their failure to do so is what’s putting China, or Japan, or Madagascar or whoever we’re annoyed with at the moment ahead in the unofficial global GDP competition. While that may be true, it does not mean that every child has to fall in love with those subjects. And since it’s apparently illegal to ask youth what they are really interested in, their lack of attention is seen as a problem. It’s not that they can’t pay attention, they just don’t want to pay it to you.
This remains a huge problem until the students graduate and enter the real world where employers demand more from a smaller workforce. It doesn’t matter if you are driving a bus, working at a department store or flying a commercial airliner, if you can’t divide your attention, things become difficult very quickly. We’ve all seen the two people at the same job who react completely opposite to the same situation. The first person (the “uni-tasker”) demands to be given one thing at a time, and eventually freaks out and locks up. The other person (the “multi-tasker”)begins to delegate tasks and prioritize based on various factors. They may even hop from one thing to another until everything is done.
Neither way is right or wrong. Zen-like focus and computer-like scanning are both important in life. But there needs to be a very clear distinction and understanding as to what the person is exhibiting instead of just diagnosing them as ADD because it’s easier:
- Lack of attention due to not liking something (and looking for whatever they can to distract them from the topic at hand).
- Lack of attention due to different learning styles (those with photographic memories and speed-readers may finish faster than other people and thus have more free time to “not pay attention”).
- The seriously non-functional (where the person cannot take care of themselves due to their inability to focus long enough on any task and truly requires treatment).
Instead of diagnosing and medicating people who can functionally think differently, perhaps we should start teaching them how to use that difference in a way that can help themselves and society. Imagine if Einstein, Goddard or The Wright Brothers grew up in our times. Would we have relativity theory? Would we have been able to go to the moon? Would we be able to fly on Jet Blue (who’s CEO has untreated ADHD)? Different doesn’t always mean bad.