Posted by: laughs4dads | October 15, 2010

The 30 Second Rule

I’d like you now to explain string theory. You have 30 seconds. Go.

I don’t know about your kids, but when my daughter, Casey, was growing up she had a strict 30 second time limit on all conversations, even if we were answering a question she had just asked.

We’d be driving along, Casey in the back seat, and she’d say something like, “Dad, how does a microprocessor work?” and I’d start explaining and glance in the rearview mirror and literally see her eyes glaze over, as though she had taken a shot of heroin 30 seconds earlier instead of asking a question.

(Disclaimer: Casey would never actually have asked a question like the one above, and if she had, it would have taken me much less than 30 seconds to say “I have no idea,” although I might have tried to make something up, because no one wants to look stupid in front of their child. Also, I have no idea how long it takes a shot of heroin to take effect, or even if it’s called “a shot of heroin.”)

It was very frustrating when I really did know the answer to a question (or thought I did), and 30 seconds into my explanation, I’d hear snoring in the back seat. It was truly amazing how she’d be paying full attention at second 29, then be fast asleep one tick later. Like she had one of those chess clocks in her head and she’d bang it whenever she asked a question.

I guess that, in our fast-paced, information-saturated, twittering world, even on those rare occasions when we’re actually talking to someone, the conversation has to be limited to 140 characters.

As Casey grew older, it was disappointing having a teenager with whom I could discuss weighty subjects like philosophy, or politics, or great works of art, and have the discussion limited to soundbytes.

But there we’d be, in the midst of an invigorating debate about the merits of the latest album by Barenaked Ladies, and I could see the lights literally go off, as suddenly as if someone had pulled a plug, even if I was in mid-sentence. Even if Casey was in mid-sentence. It was like, “Well, Dad, Steven Page is one of the gr….CLICK”

Casey is older now, but her conversational attention span isn’t much longer.

It’s possible that this is genetic. Barbara and her sister Karen have their own sort of Conversational Attention Deficit Syndrome (CADS). They never seem to be able to get to the end of a sentence that they are speaking: “So today I bought a scratch-off lottery ticket and” would be a typical complete thought. My brother-in-law Gary and I either have to accept that, or scream “AND WHAT?” Sometimes, maybe 10 minutes later, maybe 10 days later, Barbara or Karen will blurt out “I didn’t win anything,” and Gary and I are supposed to know what they’re talking about, as if we’ve been watching some sort of demented reality show on TV and we’re coming back from a really long commercial break. Karen and Barbara are, perhaps, the only people on Earth who need to precede a conversation with “Previously, on ‘What We Were Saying…’”

Someday, Barbara and Casey will have a conversation in which Casey will blink out at precisely the moment Barbara stops talking in mid-sentence. I’m thinking this will occur in 2012.

The Mayans predicted it.

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