Remember when you were young and how between the ages of 13 and 16 you talked on the phone all hours of the day. As the eldest of all of your siblings, you endowed yourself with a certain privilege. Maybe it had a lot to do with age, but after school, instead of cleaning up like you know you should, you would ignore household chores, tell your other siblings to find something in the refrigerator to eat, flop down on the recliner with a bag of chips, and just get on the phone and stay on it until your parents came home.

While you were simultaneously watching television and trying to listen to the conversation with your friend on the phone, not missing a word from either, a sibling would always station himself in front of the television and ask you questions, typically about nothing. He was your little brother and you didn’t know it at the time that he looked up to you. Although the television alone should have been distracting to your conversation on the phone with your friend, it wasn’t.

Instead you felt distracted by your younger brother. Why was that? It was because you knew you couldn’t listen to more than one conversation at a time and understand fully what each person (or thing) was saying to you. You really only got bits and pieces from the television, but you could hear much more from the conversation on the phone, because you had greater proximity to one over the other. Maybe the conversation was about the popular boy in your grade. This was typically the case; but the reason you wanted to hear more from the conversation was because you wanted to hear more from the conversation.

The point is get an image of the main conversation the eldest sibling is having on the phone. In one instance, when she tries to listen to her friend on the phone and watch television, she is inviting distractions. She is choosing to be distracted. Somewhere deep down she knows she can’t listen to both the friend and the television, but she tries to defeat all the odds. This is what teenagers do. On the other hand, when her brother comes to talk to her, trying to find where the Cheetos are, she doesn’t invite this distraction. This distraction just pops up without warning, without permission. Usually, the eldest shouts at the youngest to leave, and he does.  However, she doesn’t shout at the television, ironically.

With this in mind, your papers can be distracting in two ways: 1) the way in which you consciously permit some piece of evidence or example into a paragraph or into your paper as a whole that doesn’t have anything to do with anything (watching television while talking on the phone); and 2) the way in which you unconsciously incorporate a quote that you think is relevant to your thesis and theme of your paper, but it really doesn’t have anything to do with your paper (a popup of a quote for the sake of meeting page requirements, or trying to listen to your brother ask a question at the same time you are trying to listen to the phone conversation and the television).

Remember, your professors need to hear the conversation on the phone more than watch the television or listen to the younger brother. The conversation on the phone is more important, not extra added fillers to make the paper longer. A comment of “Distracting” implies that you have drawn your professor in conflicting directions. You have created a conflict in their minds because of unnecessary, distracting information.

Copyright 2011 Regina Y. Favors. All Rights Reserved.

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