Welcome to my blog, aka my place to comment and reflect on things I find inspiring, amusing, irritating, or baffling. When I was young, my Stanford PhD, former physics professor, software engineer father used to help me with my math homework, and I, being mentally deficient in all things math, could never quite get it. He would constantly say to me, "Jill, it's not rocket science." (Did I mention the PhD was in Aeronautics and Astronautics??) So I thought it would be an appropriate title for this blog because everything I write about is, indeed, not rocket science.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

My Phone Addiction

Last night I picked-up dinner for take-out, and I sat at a table waiting for my food, playing with my phone. Then I thought, when was the last time I just sat and waited for something, without playing with my phone? Probably since before I had a smart phone. And I call it "playing" because I'm certainly not doing any work, and all I'm doing is entertaining myself while I'm waiting. The thing is so damn addictive. And it's not the phone itself that's addictive because no one talks on the phone anymore, it's the things on it - the apps, Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, etc. They call to you: "Play with me! Check me! You know you want to!" You can be waiting for your food order, waiting in line at the grocery store, waiting for a friend, and without thinking, you just grab your phone and check e-mail, Facebook, Twitter, or whatever else you check on your phone. Because God forbid that you just sit there and wait. 

Even sillier (and sadder), we play on our phones (or iPads) while watching TV. So we have TWO forms of entertainment going at the same time because this one show just isn't doing it for us. Our addiction consumes us and we think, "I need to check Facebook/Twitter/e-mail because what if someone posted/e-mailed something in the 3 minutes since I last checked??? I have to stay on top of it!" And what exactly are we staying on top of? Others' lame Facebook posts? Inane commentary about the Olympics or other current events? An e-mail from Groupon? Nothing that enriches our lives in any way. 

This constant need to "be on top of it" is overwhelming and causes undue stress. (My friend just informed me that there is a term for this: FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. I don't watch The Kardashians, thus did not know this term until today.) What is this new need for constant entertainment and interaction? This is a relatively new phenomenon because 7 years ago we had boring, traditional phones that we used simply to talk and text, and we didn't feel compelled to play with them all the time. It's kind of sad that we're so accustomed to this constant stimulation that we don't know what to do with ourselves during those quiet moments. Even sadder that this addiction causes thousands of accidents and deaths every year, due to distracted driving.

Why are we creating more stress for ourselves? It's really nice to go on vacation where you don't have service and after a couple of days, you realize you don't give a damn about what's going on on Facebook. Or e-mail. Or whatever. The more disconnected I am, the better I feel. More relaxed. More zen. Then I go back to work and get re-consumed. I need to find a happy medium. And I don't even think I'm one of the worst addicts, either. On a scale of 1 to 10, if 1 means you don't own a cell phone and 10 means your phone is an extension of your arm, I'm probably a 6 or 7. Some people cannot be without their phone in their hand for 5 minutes. 

I'm going to do an experiment and for one week (or maybe a couple days, we'll see how it goes), I'll only use my phone when "necessary." By necessary, I mean I'll make/answer phone calls, write/respond to texts, check e-mail if I'm expecting a specific one, and possibly play Words with Friends (I can't keep my friends waiting!). But if I'm just playing with my phone for the hell of it, then I'll see what it's like to just chill. And be silent. And think. Maybe I'll feel less overwhelmed? Calmer? More zen? The goal is not to stop using my phone but to be less dependent on it for entertainment and less consumed by the FOMO. We'll see how I do.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Multi-tasking Myth

I read an article that there's no such thing as multi-tasking because our brains can only focus on one task at a time, and what we're actually doing is serial tasking - "shifting from one task to another to another in rapid succession." You can physically be doing two or more things at once - listening to the TV in the background while reading the newspaper or talking on the phone while browsing the internet, but really, your brain can only completely focus on one of these things. This is absolutely true. If I'm listening to talk radio while reading, I can either pay full attention to the radio and not really comprehend what I'm reading, or focus on reading and not really grasp what I'm hearing. Or, if I'm talking on the phone while browsing the internet, I sometimes miss what the person said because my mind is not fully committed to the conversation. I was always amazed by people who could study or do homework in front of the TV. I was never one of these people, simply because I couldn't focus on my homework and would inevitably end up watching the TV. I would bet that many people who said they could study in front of the TV didn't accomplish much studying, either. 

We brag about our multi-tasking capabilities all the time - we list it as a skill on our resumes, and it is often listed as a requirement in job postings. Moms in particular are touted as the queens of multi-tasking - caring for their children, doing laundry, making dinner, and updating Facebook - all at the same time! Phew! But they are actually only doing one of these things completely. I don't mean this as a criticism, I just think it's impossible to fully commit to more than one task at a time. Everything else is done half-assed.

We love the word multi-tasking because it conveys to others that we are juggling life's many balls simultaneously, and doing so successfully. It means, I have so damn much to do and am so busy that I can't possibly do only one thing at a time! And by telling everyone that we're the ultimate multi-tasker, we are implying that we're kicking life's ass! We rule! Except, when was the last time we had a quiet 5 minutes without a phone in our hand, a computer in front of our face, or a child tugging at our pant leg? Exactly. Maybe being a superb multi-tasker isn't something to brag about. Maybe it just means that we're so busy that we can't even find the time to dedicate ourselves to just one thing. Single-tasking might be something to brag about - intimating a better life balance, perhaps? I think I'll put on my resume that I'm an excellent single-tasker, then direct potential employers to this post. That wouldn't be obnoxious at all. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Facebook Over-sharers

We all know who these people are. Our "friends" who share too damn much on Facebook. They tell you about their children's sleep schedules, what they had for dinner, their trip to Home Depot, their medical problems, their love for Jesus, their inspirational thought-of-the-day, their exercise habits, and even their children's potty training regimen. Is there no filter? Is nothing sacred?

I guess my rule is, know your audience. And because most of us have 300+ Facebook friends, your audience is large, varied, and wildly unimpressed that Bobo went pee-pee on the potty. Or that you had salmon for dinner. Or that you went for a run this morning.

I imagine it to be like telling a joke - you're not going to tell a dirty joke to your parents (well in my case, probably, but that's beside the point). You're selective. You tell them the one about the rope walking into a bar ("I'm a-frayed knot!"), not the one about the snowman and why he had his pants down. 

I always wonder what motivates Facebook over-sharers. The thing that I don't understand is that many of my over-sharer friends are cool people in real life (I don't consider Facebook real life). It's like they forget that they're not just updating their family and group of 10-20 close friends (who might care about Bobo's potty training), but EVERYONE YOU WENT TO HIGH SCHOOL AND COLLEGE WITH, COWORKERS, AND ACQUAINTANCES. That's a lot of people who probably didn't want or need to know that tidbit.

As one of my favorite movie characters of all time, Neal Page, says to Del Griffith, “You know, everything is not an anecdote. You have to discriminate. You choose things that are funny or mildly amusing or interesting. You're a miracle! Your stories have NONE of that.  They're not even amusing, ACCIDENTALLY! And by the way, when you're telling these little stories? Here's a good idea: have a POINT. It makes it SO much more interesting for the listener! ” I think these are words to live by.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Busyness or Laziness?

I recently read this article which argues that most people's busyness is self-imposed and that they are busy "because of their own ambition or drive or anxiety, because they're addicted to busyness and dread what they might have to face in its absence." The author also says that when people say, "I've been so busy," it's actually a boast disguised as a complaint. I think the author is mostly correct, but I would add another factor and say that busyness can also be used as an excuse to mask laziness. A common example in my life: "I'm sorry I haven't responded until now - I've been super busy." Sure, there are times when I am actually very busy at work and don't have time for personal e-mails. But there are other days when I'd simply rather spend my time playing on the internet than responding to e-mails. And then when I do respond, I can say how busy I've been, which might be a partial-truth. I suppose I'm giving away a secret, but I think everybody does this in some form.

The busyness excuse lets us off the hook for a lot of things, whether it's taking too long to respond to an e-mail, return a phone call, or buy a birthday gift. But it is socially inappropriate to say, "I definitely have time for this, but I'd rather spend my time watching TV. I'll see how I feel tomorrow." This laziness isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's just a choice we make about how we spend our time. Sometimes we just don't feel like it. But we feel better about ourselves if we just tell people how busy we are. People can understand this. They'll respond, "Oh, me too. Let's catch up when we both come up for air." Sometimes you just need 'me' time, and you don't want to feel bad about it. And you shouldn't feel bad about it. But just remember to tell everyone how busy you are.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Why My Mom is Awesome

I couldn't leave my mom out after my last post. My mom is awesome for many reasons, but one particularly awesome quality is that she can talk to anybody. And I mean anybodyI once told her that that she could talk to a goat. Years ago we were in Scotland, waiting at a train station, and my mom had a 15-minute conversation with an older Scottish gentleman who had an incredibly thick Scottish brogue (one of those, "I can't believe we're speaking the same language"-type accents), and afterwards she told me that she couldn't understand a word he was saying. Yet she hung in there for 15 minutes. She makes "friends" all over town - the grocery store, the nail salon, the auto repair shop, restaurants, wherever. If we're out-and-about and she runs into someone she knows, it's a guaranteed 10-minute (minimum) conversation, with me standing beside her, discreetly checking my watch and wondering when she'll be done with this conversation so we can go (my dad feels my pain on this). 

Part of it is her life-long philosophy of being kind and friendly to everyone. But I think it is a gift. She can work a room like no one I've ever seen, floating from one conversation to another, making the person she's talking to feel like she genuinely cares about what they're saying (which she does...most of the time) and that they're the most important person in the room. If we're at a party or social gathering together and I'm struggling with a conversation, my mom will enter and I know that I'm saved. 

I try to learn from the master, and she tells me that the key is to just ask questions, because people generally love to talk about themselves. But I've been in situations where I'm chatting with someone I've just met, and I'm throwing out question after question. I'm even thinking of other questions I can ask while I'm asking the current question. And then there's silence. And awkwardness. Pulling teeth. Somehow my mom is able to work through the awkwardness and keep it flowing. 

She also likes to play a little game - a test of egotism and social grace, I suppose, where she mentally notes if the person with whom she's speaking reciprocates and asks her any questions. More often than not, they don't. I suppose I'm giving away her little secret. But I've been in situations where I'm talking to someone like my mom, who's asking me a ton of questions, and afterwards I think, "Shit. I talked a lot and didn't ask them very many questions." But at least I'm aware of it, and I'm constantly trying to be better. Most people probably don't notice that they just talked about themselves for 20 minutes. Being a great conversationalist is definitely an art. I consider myself a young apprentice, which makes my mom the Jedi master. 

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Why My Dad is Awesome

I was reflecting on my blog title and how "It's not rocket science" is very meaningful to me because it relates to an awesome story about my dad, which relates to the quality I admire most in him. As I mention in my blog description, my dad used to say to me, "Jill, it's not rocket science" when he was helping me with my math homework (which was more often than not because I'm retarded at math). I knew that he had a PhD from Stanford and that he was super-smart and could explain to me the wonders of the universe, but I just assumed his degree was in Physics because he used to be a Physics professor at the University of Victoria, in Canada. And he had a radical t-shirt that said, "Physics is Phantastic." I wore it to a high school dance once, when my friends and I were trying to be goofy and ironic. It wasn't until I was 18 years-old that I found out that his PhD was actually in Aeronautics (or Aeronautical Engineering or some other genius-sounding thing - he can correct me later). We were at my grandfather's memorial service, and I have no idea how it came up, but he casually mentioned it and my mouth hung open. "Your PhD was in Aeronautics?? I thought it was in Physics! So all these years you've been telling me, 'It's not rocket science,' and you actually know what rocket science is???" He smiled and laughed. 

But my dad's uber-smarts is not why he is awesome. The rocket science thing is impressive and cool, of course. But he is awesome because I didn't know this fact until I was 18. 18!! I think if I had a PhD in Aeronautics, I would wear a name tag that said, "Hi, my name is Jill, and I am a rocket scientist. SUCK ON THAT." Well, I don't really think I'd do that. Because I'd like to think that I'm somewhat like my dad. As you might have surmised, my dad is not the sort of guy who talks about himself very often. Or ever. And when he does offer up a crumb of information about himself, you snatch it up and put it in your memory bank because it probably won't come around again anytime soon. My dad is not shy by any means, just very humble and modest. In fact, he's probably embarrassed that I'm writing this post. But with my dad, as with most people who don't like to talk about themselves, you just have to remember to ask questions. Then he'll talk. It just never occurred to me to ask. 

Humility and modesty are such admirable qualities, especially in this day and age, when everything in the Facebook and Twitter world screams, "LOOK AT ME!" Boastfulness and over-sharing is not phantastic. But my dad is. 

UPDATE: My dad informed me that his PhD was in Aeronautics and Astronautics - Aeronautics has been around for years and involves flight inside the Earth's atmosphere, while Astronautics is flight beyond Earth's atmosphere - the rocket science part. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Worst Job Ever?

No, it's not mine. It's the door-to-door salespeople who harass and annoy people like me at work. Corporate door-to-door salespeople, I guess. These people must take all kinds of abuse - I know I dish it out. And sometimes I feel bad about it. But there is no one more annoying or intruding than salespeople who come into my office trying to sell me something, especially when I'm busy. It ranges from payroll service to communication devices, data storage, IT service, office supplies, flower delivery, and even artwork.

I sit at the front desk, so I'm the first line of defense - it's their goal to speak to my boss and my job to keep them away from him. I can sniff them out a mile away. They open the door slowly and often timidly, and stand there and pause for a second with a slight smile and a dumb look on their face. It goes something like this:

Them: "How are you today?"
Me: "Fiiiiiine." (Annoyed already)
"Can I ask you a few questions about your telephone service?"
"No, thank you, we're not interested." (First and only attempt at being polite)
"But my company does something that NO OTHER company does! And I ASSURE you that you need my product!"
"We're doing just fine, thanks. And frankly, our phone service is none of your business." (Blood pressure starts rising at this point) 
"OK, is your manager available?"
"No, he's not here." (True) "And I'm very busy." (Might be true)
"Well, I'm going to leave you my card. What's your boss's name?"
"He's not interested, I assure you. Please leave."

And then finally s/he (usually he for some reason) leaves, feeling defeated, and me feeling a little bitchy. But you know the saying, if you give an inch...

I once had a salesman say to me after I told him that we don't use any of the services his company provides, "I highly doubt that." I took his brochure, threw it in my recycle bin and told him for the second time, "We're not interested. And I'm very busy. Please leave." Then I felt bitchy because I could have given his brochure back to him, but I threw it away in front of his face.

I had another woman from an office supply company tell me that she "wasn't taking 'no' for an answer." She was as green as they come, and she must have just finished her "Selling 101" class. It was her last resort. I basically had to threaten her to get the hell out.

Another guy came in and noticed that our office was a mess with stacks of files piled high (it was April busy season for God's sake), and he actually had the nerve to remark on the state of our office and laugh. Needless to say, I told him to leave.

I think corporate door-to-door sales must be the worst job ever because nice, polite people like me turn into mega-bitches. And they leave feeling dejected, probably thinking, "Wow, what a bitch." They're probably used to getting rejected and abused, but that's why it must be one of the worst jobs - who wants to be used to people treating them like dog shit? 

But this is why I'm good at my job. No one gets past me. I am the first line of defense. And my boss thanks me for it...and pays me for it.