I Wish I Were Far From the Madding Crowd

April 5, 2010

Busyness and fast food

How timely, given my recent post on busyness (which this nicely ties together with fast food).

A paper, “You Are How You Eat: Fast Food and Impatience,” to be published in Psychological Science., discusses how fast food (and even symbols of fast food) can cause increased impatience.  Okay, I don’t know if I buy that, but if the literature they cite is accurate, that could help explain Kabat-Zinn’s observations about how we feel more rushed today even though we have more “time-saving” devices at our disposal.

Zhong and DeVoe, researchers at the University of Toronto, note:

From the selection of ingredients to preparation of food and to consuming the end products, the goal of fast food is to save time. Fast food allows people to fill their stomach as quickly as possible and move on to other things. It represents a culture that emphasizes time efficiency and immediate gratification.

Based on recent advancements in the behavioral priming literature, we suggest that exposure to fast food concepts can automatically induce time-saving behaviors.

They note that the effects of that are probably mixed.

Although fast food has certainly contributed to a culture of time efficiency, the exposure to fast food might have also promoted haste and impatience.

They point out that it’s impossible to know whether fast food in part caused the value for time efficiency in our culture or is merely a consequence of it—but, according to the press release, “it’s clear from their findings that exposure to fast food reinforces an emphasis on impatience and instant gratification.”

And while they say that everyone is affected by this to some degree, I can see how especially with respect to eating it could (has?) become a vicious cycle.  You’re too busy too cook, so you grab some fast food.  Which is self-reinforcing so that after a while you’re too impatient to make your own meals.  (And that’s even truer when what you’re eating lights up the reward centers in your brain.)

And thus, Sandra Boynton can write songs like “BusyBusyBusy” that describe all too well our haste and impatience.)

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Originally seen in Nutrition Updates from Stone Hearth Newsletters: Exposure to fast food, and its symbols, can make us impatient: study

The update was originally posted on EurekAlert as a press release: Rotman paper finds exposure to fast food can make us impatient

April 4, 2010

Are we too busybusybusy?

I reencountered a song a week or two ago that is absolutely hilarious.

“BusyBusyBusy” (sung by Kevin Kline, Song #13 in Philadelphia Chickens [1])

First verse and refrain (imagine this sung non-stop with almost every syllable being sung on an eighth note—and with no rests in each verse):

We’re
very, very busy
and we’ve got a lot to do
and we haven’t got a minute
to explain it all to you
for on SundayMondayTuesday
there are people we must see
and on WednesdayThursdayFriday
we’re as busy as can be
with our most important meetings
and our most important calls
and we have to do so many things
and post them on the walls.

Perhaps because of the song I pulled Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Coming to Our Senses[2] off the shelf it had sat on for a while and flipped through it.

A couple of chapters immediately caught my eye.  With chapter titles ranging from “A.D.D. Nation” and “24/7 Connectivity” to “The Infidelity of Busyness” and “Interrupting Ourselves” to “Overwhelmed” those alone sound what life is like nowadays.

Kabat-Zinn says that our entire society suffers from ADD and ADHD.

Learning how to refine our ability to pay attention and to sustain attention may no longer be a luxury but a lifeline back to what is most meaningful in our lives, what is most easily missed, ignored, denied, or run through so quickly that it could not possibly be noticed.

Kabat-Zinn notes that the combination of increasing processing speed and miniaturization and cheaper and cheaper electronics…

proffers a seduction in computer systems for work and home, consumer products, games, and portable electronic devices that can easily lead to outright addiction and the loss of all measure of direction as we respond willy-nilly to the increasing volumes of e-mail, voice mail, faxes, pages, and cell phone traffic coming in from all corners of the planet.

Hmm, makes me wonder whether he’s heard “BusyBusyBusy”:

we have to hurry far away
and then we hurry near
and we have to hurry everywhere
and be both there and here
and we have to send out messages
by e-mail, phone, and fax
and we’re talking every minute
and we really can’t relax
and we think there is a reason
to be running neck-and-neck
and it must be quite important
but we don’t have time to check.

I guess what I find most fascinating about this song is that while this might be what an adult’s life looks like to children at times, this is often how my life feels like to me.  Boynton (and Kevin Kline) capture that feeling perfectly.

And so Kabat-Zinn’s question resonates.  “But what about balance,” he asks, “and how do we regulate the pace of instant and ubiquitous connectivity, and the expectation of instantaneous responding?”  He notes that with our cellphones and wireless devices we can be in touch with anyone and everyone at any time.  “But,” he continues, “have you noticed that, in the process, we run the risk of never being in touch with ourselves?”

Saying that our primary connection to life is through experiencing our own bodies and our own senses, he says “we need moments that are not filled with anything, in which we do not jump to get in one more phone call or send one more e-mail, or plan one more event, or add to our to-do list, even if we can. Moments of reflection, of mulling, of thinking things over, of thoughtfulness.”  (Reminds me of Elaine Aron’s advice to Highly Sensitive Persons about what is needed to avoid becoming overwhelmed.  Everyone needs downtime.  Unfortunately with the world becoming increasingly frenetic, it seems that we are all less likely to get it and indeed burn ourselves out.)

Kabat-Zinn asks:

With all this talk of connectivity, what about connectivity to ourselves?  Are we becoming so connected to everybody else that we are never where we actually are?

As noted in “BusyBusyBusy”…

THEN
we have to hurry to the south
and then we hurry north
and we’re talking every minute
as we hurry back and forth
and we have to hurry to the east
and then we hurry west
and we’re talking every minute
and we don’t have time to rest
and we have to do it faster
or it never will be done
and we have no time for listening
or anything that’s fun.

In starting to read Coming to Our Senses I’ve realized how far I have to go.  (So is that why I’m sitting here at this computer typing another blog post? Ah, irony.)

References:
1. Philadelphia Chickens. [Book and CD] Music by Sandra Boynton & Michael Ford. Lyrics and Drawings by Sandra Boynton. New York: Workman Publishing, c2002.

One of the interesting things about this book and CD is that among the singers and performers were the Bacon Brothers (one of whom is, yes, Kevin Bacon), Meryl Streep, Scott Bakula, and the late Natasha Richardson.  If you have young kids (or nieces or nephews) it would make a great gift.  (I have not checked to see if “BusyBusyBusy” is available for listening anywhere on the Web, but perhaps you can find it somewhere.)

Note: A portion of the proceeds from the book goes to the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation and the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation on behalf of all the artists who performed on the album.

2. Jon Kabat-Zinn. Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness. New York: Hyperion, c2005.

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