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Vandana Kohli
Vandana Kohli


The price of distraction

oscars-stage-8 That moment of confusion at Oscars 2017 when La La Land mistakenly was announced as the Best Picture instead of Moonlight. Brian Cullinan is third from right | AFP

Brian Cullinan stood in the wings with his briefcase, watching one of the most awaited award events of the year unfold on stage. He was on duty, as he’d been in the preceding years. His job was to hand over sealed envelopes to the celebrities who went on stage to announce the Oscar awards, no less. A high-ranking official of his firm, PwC, he was there to make sure they got the right envelope. To ensure smooth functioning of the event, he had a colleague on the other side of the stage with exactly the same job.

Yet, this year, Best Picture at the Oscars was presented to the wrong set of people. They’d delivered their thank you speeches, until a few minutes later, two people from backstage rushed on stage to correct the error. Over 3,000 people present at the venue, 34 million viewers in the US and others across 225 countries witnessed the botch up.

The cause

Was Cullinan distracted watching Emma Stone as she’d walked backstage after receiving the Best Actress award? Perhaps. That however, didn’t cause the mix up. What did, apparently, was that Cullinan was busy clicking her picture which he then rushed to upload in a tweet, at that moment. (That tweet has since been deleted.)

Cullinan is hardly alone in his scramble to announce things to the world. While technology opens up great opportunities for connectivity and learning, in it’s unchecked take over, it is driving us towards a tearing hurry to mindlessly scurry over almost everything. We are pulled and pushed, compelled to check and engage with our smartphones almost every minute, for messages on a plethora of social media platforms, many of which are irrelevant to us, our work and the basic fabric of life.

This is an addiction. A friend recently admitted that she felt this urge to reply instantly to every message she receives, even in the middle of a conversation with another person or in the middle of a meal. Instant messaging leads more to reactions than to responses. Thinking through a response and then messaging appropriately and comprehensively seems to be a skill we’re fast losing, if not lost already.

We are also constantly distracted. Despite trying to stay aware, I tend to check my phone at least four times during a 40-minute yoga session. While a few years earlier this chunk of time would have been concentrated and committed to exercise, now it is broken up with a certain mindless seeking for stimulation. Looking at a message, even random, then leads to a chain of superficial thought, which, in turn, keeps one further distracted through the motions of the exercise. It compromises the effort, and effect, of the yoga session.

The cost

That there is a cost involved in constantly engaging with technology is what most companies are aware of. PwC had laid down the rules. Cullinan and his associate were allowed to engage with their smartphones till he hit the red carpet outside the theatre. After that, there was to be no partaking in social media. The phone was meant only for emergencies. That he defied the rules, despite his high rank and responsibility, is testimony to his addiction.

For the Oscars, this was one of the most embarrassing moments in its history. Known for its extravaganza, the organisation hires the best across the board to make the Academy Awards infallible. PwC, one of the four biggest accounting firms in the world, has been associated with the Academy Awards since 1934. Though not it’s most lucrative client, PwC has advertised its 83 year-old association with the Oscars with pride—so far. That has changed now for the firm, with the compelling pull of a tweet.

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The Week

Topics : #Mindscape | #opinion

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