Are Texting Main Line Moms Worse than their Teens?

Why a certain group of busy women refuses to stop talking, eating, and putting on their mascara while driving

“While I’m in the car I try to eat, answer phone calls, check email, drive, and write a to-do list,” admits my friend A. cheerfully. “I’m always multitasking.” A. is unapologetic about her habit of doing approximately six things at one time while surfing the back roads of Bryn Mawr in her large SUV, because otherwise, she simply can’t pack all her charity work and kid stuff and business into one day. “There’s so much that needs to be done, and it’s easy to do it in the car.”

“I do it for low-level tasks,” says J., a mom of two who’s one of the more quietly focused women I know. She describes her multitasking as limited to “folding laundry while talking on the phone, watching TV while needlepointing, listening to the radio while driving.” As J. puts it, “One task has to be alpha and one beta. You cannot — or should not — do two or more alpha tasks simultaneously. Driving while needlepointing as an example — bad idea.”[SIGNUP]

For myself, I’m trying to quit multitasking cold turkey. I never talk on the phone while I’m driving with the kids (precious cargo), but one day recently while they were at school, I pulled into our driveway, answered a call, then climbed out of the car while simultaneously having a sip of Starbucks, getting the mail, pulling a weed, and taking off my sunglasses. This resulted in my slamming my thumb in the car door, which really, really hurt. The ensuing purple nail serves as an excellent reminder to do one thing at a time.

Obviously, experts and psychologists are convinced that multitasking is bad for you, and even addictive (the word was coined in the computer industry — computers are designed to do several things at once, while humans are not). A., though, says that her life would completely implode if she gave up her everything-at-once credo. For myself, I’m trying to force myself to stick to short, attainable to-do lists, and if I want to call someone or check email, to wait until I’m at least done the task at hand, such as writing this paragraph … phew … almost got distracted there for a second.

A.’s SUV-as-office approach now actually unnerves her teenagers. “I have my Blackberry for e-mail and text messaging,” she tells me (I’m pretty sure she’s in her car while we’re talking), “and then I have my iPhone to check my bank accounts and pay my bills. So I have two phones going, and my kids screaming at me, ‘Mom, green light!’” Then she pauses for a minute and adds, “I have driven away with my purse on top of the car, or my coffee cup on top of the car because I’m juggling so many things at one time.” Which reminds me, while I’m walking the dog today, I’m going to call A. and beg her not to multitask anymore.