Background Competition 📺

I cannot write in the same room where a television is airing, because it destroys my concentration, and I have no clue why. I’m writing this for my own understanding.

(Bruna Araujo/Unsplash)

I’m doing something I have a real problem with while writing this. I have my speakers pounding me with loud music.

This is a test, something that I have long struggled with. For some reason, I generally need near-silence to write, because I find the music or background chatter, like that from a television set, gets in the way of the writing. And I, of course, write a lot. (Ironically, about television, a frequent topic of mine.)

And I think I’ve always kind of been this way. When I first moved into a solo apartment without roommates in 2009, I didn’t even have a TV. I instead had my laptop, and that was that.

But then I got a girlfriend, and then we got married, and I slowly started watching TV again after taking much of my 20s off from regular television watching. But for whatever reason, I was never able to shake out of this mode where focused bursts of writing required silence or a coffee shop level of background noise.

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(Steve Johnson/Unsplash)

Ironically, research suggests that I should actually be more productive if I write with a television set working in the background, as cited in a 2017 study of the Journal of Consumer Research. The thesis that they went with was this:

We theorize that a moderate (vs. low) level of ambient noise is likely to induce processing disfluency or processing difficulty, which activates abstract cognition and consequently enhances creative performance. A high level of noise, however, reduces the extent of information processing, thus impairing creativity.

The study, done by Ravi Mehta of the University of Illinois, Rui (Juliet) Zhu of the University of British Columbia, and Amar Cheema of the University of Virginia, effectively confirmed these results, finding that a level of noise equivalent to that of a roadside restaurant would actually improve creativity by putting a degree of resistance to the thought, so you are basically challenged to be more creative.

Now, the thing is, I love writing in coffee shops, absolutely love it. And when I get properly vaccinated, the first place I will likely go is a coffee shop. But for some reason, the combination of moving images and dialogue just really does not work for my brain when I create things.

As for music, a lot of the music I listen to tends to be of the alternative rock and folk variety, but I find that when I do listen to music, I am most successful with writing against quiet folk, ambient, or jazz music. (I’m listening to R.E.M. currently, because R.E.M. is neither quiet folk nor jazz music, and I am resisting the desire to sing along.)

I guess the reason why I’m writing this is because I would like to eventually find a comfort with writing in the same room where my wife is when she’s watching TV. I really have never been able to do it, and it’s frustrating because it’s not out of a desire to not be in the same room as her, but just a general inability for my brain to get in a writing mode when a television set is competing for my attention.

It’s weird. To this day, I view watching a show on TV as work. I think this is the reason—because of this struggle with multitasking.

For now, I’m just happy I got through this piece. Now excuse me as I sing along.

Time limit given ⏲: 30 minutes

Time left on clock ⏲: 7 minutes

Ernie Smith

Your time was just wasted by Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the editor of Tedium, and an active internet snarker. Between his many internet side projects, he finds time to hang out with his wife Cat, who's funnier than he is.

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