Procrastination is my middle name. Or it would be, if I had one. Luckily for me, I don’t. If there is something that I can put away doing indefinitely, I will. And this isn’t a new characteristic that I’ve suddenly picked up, now that I’m working from home. I’ve always been so, probably for as long as I can remember. Of course back then, I didn’t know the word for it. I used to proudly say that I was "Mr. Last Minute.com", as if I was some sort of super hero. However as I grew up, I was "made" to realise the various connotations and meanings that this ‘alleged super hero name of mine' could be misconstrued as. So I set about searching the magnificent English language and found this magical word which defines a part of me - a procrastinator. Mr. Procrastinator - if I didn’t know the meaning, I would have said it sounds like a cool nick name. Ok. I digress. So as I mentioned, my procrastination in doing things (or rather not doing things in a timely fashion) has been evident to me for a really long time. Back when I was a child (I still am - at heart that is), I always waited until the end of the day to do my homework, except when my mom lovingly asked me to (read : ordered) complete it before going out to play. When the exam schedules came out, one of the things we kids always unnecessarily concerned ourselves with was “how many off-days we had before a particular exam”. I too was interested in it. But only because I wouldn’t touch my book until the day before. Ok, that’s untrue - I would touch the book, but there’d usually be a small story book tucked somewhere inside that. Again, the only exception would be when my mother would kindly sit me down to work through some tests. And it wasn’t just studies. I’d been taught from a young age that it was good manners to wash my plates and utensils after a meal. I would put them in the sink with the righteous intention of washing them later, and then forget about it, until my mom would remind me about them. Taking out the garbage had also been my responsibility, one which I'd often conveniently put away till later. Now, there’s really no harm in that, unless you have a cat around the house, who loves to go through the garbage.
Despite being given numerous talking to’s, I still continued to procrastinate. My parents finally just put it down to my “childish charm” and hoped that adolescence would teach me a thing or two about why I shouldn’t put things away for later. Alas, I’d say they didn’t have their fingers crossed tight enough. During my teenage and pre-twenty years, I was largely away from home. So needless to say, dishes piled up more frequently and garbage toppled ever so often (even without the cat). And studying was no longer just last minute, it became selective. I would often leave it, until the evening before exam. And even then, I would only learn selective topics, keeping my fingers crossed and hoping that I'd studied enough to pass. As for homework and assignments, they were often hurriedly scribbled work that I’d have put together whilst on the hour-long bus journey to college. Why, I even procrastinated in (actually I prefer the phrase “waited for a reasonable period before”) asking my now-wife JP out on a date. As for the hand in marriage thing, let’s not go there. Five years into marriage and I’m not really sure if I'd even proposed to her. She may have had enough of my procrastination and decided to take the “bull by the horns”, so to speak.
Once again my parents, together with my lovely wife, hoped and prayed that marriage would make me a more responsible person. Whilst they weren’t entirely disappointed on that front, my procrastination still continued. Things that I were interested in and found enjoyable such as reading, watching TV, playing on my Xbox, cooking, movies, eating out and all other such important activities were being executed in a precise and timely manner. Why, I even started cleaning up the dishes promptly and taking out the garbage daily. But I still procrastinated about other things such paying bills, doing the laundry and other trivial household chores. Another bunch of things that I dawdled about were social commitments in general and keeping in touch with certain relatives. Plus there was Facebook and Twitter. And online games. And the Internet in general.
And then out of the blue, I became a parent.
To date, fatherhood has been my single greatest teacher. And I still have miles to go before “I sleep”. I suppose I should be a bit honest here too. I procrastinated at procreating too. Ok, that didn’t come out quite so well. (Sid, enough with the unintended innuendos!) What I meant is, we both procrastinated and dilly dallied with the decision of creating an off-spring. Me more than her, I suppose. I wasn’t sure I was ready for all that responsibility. And I’d both read and been told about the nightmares of three-hourly feeds, unearthly diaper changes and the likes. But eventually I was convinced and we had a little one. Yes, for the first few months, seven to be precise, I hardly procrastinated about anything. It was like I’d been reborn. I did everything promptly and sometimes even without being asked. Frankly it was a rather pleasant surprise to all, including me. But that’s the thing with life. Some things are just too good to be true. And eventually, as the little one grew up, I slowly started putting things off again. During my watch, diapers were left on a tad longer than they should have been, milk bottles were sterilised at the last minute and so on.
Fast forward to the present. Our little one is all of 22 months old, and as you can see from my “M for Mischief series”, he is quite a handful. As a work at home father, during my main shift of 12-6 (he goes to play school in the morning, leaving me with some time to procrastinate!), I am frequently on my feet trying to play a combination of Super Heroes from Superman jumping over tall objects to Mr. Fantastic who can extend his arms ( and other parts as required) to catch falling glass containers and plates. So there’s hardly any time for procrastination.
However you should know this about me. I am a staunch believer in the phrase “If there’s a will, there’s a way”. So eventually I always get around to doing what’s required of me, even if it’s at the last minute. Sort of like this post :)
I know some parts of the post make my parents sound like they didn’t pay proper attention to me. That is untrue. If anything, they’re guilty of paying me extra attention. Kindly refrain from confusing my procrastination with laziness. That’s not to say that I’m not lazy. That I am. My procrastination arises from the fact that I am too engrossed in doing things that I’m really interested in at a given point, that I sometimes “forget” that I pushed something else aside in the past. Finally, I know some of those lines shed really bad light on my parenting skills. Please don’t call Child Welfare. I’m a decent parent :)
[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was "Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda : Tell us about something you know you should do . . . but don’t"]
“Go to your room, and think about what you did!” Though my neighbour spoke in a fairly monotonous voice, I could sense the firmness in her words. So could her seven-year old son. Giving her an angry stare, worthy of Hannibal Lecter, he picks his PSP, storms off into his room, and slams the door shut. The whole flat shudders slightly, and so does my teacup, which politely sat on the coffee table. Not quite sure how to respond, I do the best possible thing – I pick up the floral teacup and sip on some heavenly masala chai.
Now in the interest of respecting their privacy, I’m not going to divulge what led to this “battle”. Nevertheless I will say this – The kid was in the wrong, at least in my opinion. But then, people say that the behavior of kids are usually a reflection of their upbringing. Anyway, this incident got me thinking – Are kids really that different now, than say the 70’s-80’s, when most of us would have been in their shoes?
Not much has changed biologically, I suppose. Kids still like to run freely and jump about. They still love to go higher and higher on the set of swings in the playground. They still get a kick out of playing games such as hide & seek and running & catching with their friends. They are still impressed with the tall giraffes at the zoo and the playful dolphins at the Water Kingdom. So, the kids of the 21st century all seem to have been essentially “wired” in the same way as us. So what’s changed then?
The answer has to be technology. Yes I know, our kids are probably more adept at using newer technology than we would have been at the same age. The difference is the influence of technology in every day life. And that’s what is changing our kids and subsequently our parenting style. Confused? Let’s take a look at few examples:
Communicating with friends
Back in the day, we spoke face to face. We wrote letters and notes. When our friend’s parents answered the phone, we respectfully addressed them and politely enquired about our friends. We spoke in complete sentences. Today, technology has completely turned this art of communication on its head. With most kids having some form of portable communication device – i.e. smartphone /iPod/iPad, they don’t find the need to have to speak at all.
Research has shown the average number of phone calls have dropped drastically while the numbers of text messages and Instant Messages have increased almost three fold. Even if they need to speak to each other, the good old fashioned “Let’s meet at my place, my mom has made cookies” has been replaced by “Let’s FaceTime/Skype”. Why, even a good oldfangled “Hi” has been replaced by the inevitable “Poke”.
Do I see a few raised eyebrows? Sure, technology has ironed out a lot of monotonous creases. No longer do we have to mull over the pages of a dictionary to check the right spelling. And when in doubt, we always have Wikipedia and Google (and others) to correct us. But my concern lies elsewhere. Most school-going kids these days are unable to string together a whole sentence without grammatical error. Strangely, they could probably convey the same sentence in less than 140 characters via an SMS, Twitter or Facebook status update. With auto-correct and online dictionaries, kids of today are much more reliant on technology for writing (or maybe I should say typing) than we used to be. Spellings have just become plain awful.
Kids, particularly the teenage groups, are showing a decreased ability of memory retention. From simple things such as phone numbers and special dates such as birthdays and other important occasions, kids (and adults too) are becoming increasingly reliant on their “faithful, on-hand technology” such as smartphones, laptops and tablets which often serve as memory aids or in some cases, their personal assistant (Yes, Apple – I’m talking about Siri). Whilst the act of utilizing technology to remember important occasions is not something to be entirely frowned upon, scientific research has shown time and time again, that those who rely almost completely on technology suffer deterioration in their cognitive abilities. Even Google co-founder Larry Page had mentioned in an article that research showed that our memory retained much lesser information when reading from a screen as opposed to reading the same thing from a physical book. Need I say more?
Frustration, Anger & Patience (or rather lack of)
When we were young, the terms frustration and short-tempered were often used to describe the teenage years, and with good reason. There were a lot of physical and emotional changes associated with the age group and hence time and again, boundaries were crossed and sometimes thrown out. However, it has been observed that pre-teen children these days, are victims of increased frustration and shortened fuses. It isn’t out of the ordinary to see kids as young as seven or eight flip their lid, when asked to do something as trivial as taking their plates to the sink after a meal. With regards to the patience element, I suppose it’s not just kids, but even adults. I mean back in the days when the Internet was in its nascent stages of dial-up, we were ok with having to wait the better part of 10 minutes for a basic page to load. These days, with technology having forged ahead, kids do not even know what “slow” means when it comes to technology. The amount of times they refresh a browser page or their Facebook page is a clear indication that the virtue of patience is on the decline.
Let’s be clear – I am not against technology and its use in day-to-day activities. Yes, technology has its upsides. Kids today know where to get the information. They are able to harness technology effectively, be it for the school essay homework or for their science project. Technology has helped make them more independent than our generation was, as kids. But there are always two sides to any argument, and I’m merely suggesting thatexcessive exposure to technology, especially for kids during their formative years, will not be without its drawbacks.
The simplest thing we can do is to ensure that we, as parents, use our sound judgment to ensure our kids use technology as a tool to survive and flourish in this era, but not at the expense of their basic inherent social skills
Now, to end on a lighter note, I’d like to ask all of you to attempt something – whenever you find a few spare minutes.
Try and “write” your next article or blog post in a book or sheets of paper. Ok, maybe that’s a bit harsh. Try and write a page of something, maybe even try to copy an article from the newspaper. Try writing it continuously without taking a break, sort of like writing an exam. For most of us, after a few lines, our arms will start to ache. Might be in varying shades of pain, but it will ache. Now think why?
You’re right – It’s simply because we don’t write as much as we used to. It’s all about typing, touch-screen pinching and swiping; that’s what we’re so used to, that we’ve completely lost touch with the art of writing. Our arm/hand muscles don’t get that much of a work out as they used to. Now think of the current and future generation of kids. They are already adept at using the touch screen to type and their fingers often fly through the keyboard keys. Imagine how they could possibly tackle a 3-hour examination (assuming that it is still three hours) where they have to write their answers. Their little arms probably hurt a lot more than ours; after all they’ve been using touch screens and keyboards from birth, and pens/pencils occasionally.
Do you reckon it’ll come as a surprise if their grades fall due to their inability to complete a physically written exam? After all not every exam will be a computer-adapted one. On that hopefully thought provoking note, I’ll end this here.