New! Distracted Featured in "Grace Notes" Exhibit at New York Society Library from January 19 to February 22 - New York City

In McCain’s (Multitasking) Wake: WashPost’s “Great Moments in Boredom”


Yesterday I got a call from an old AP colleague, now with the Washington Post. Quick! Dave Beard wanted commentary on distraction for a photo montage dubbed “Great Moments in Boredom.”

The Post’s resulting Photo Gallery, featured on page one today, offers a nice peek at world leaders and others caught peeking at their watches, yawning and even falling dead asleep in the public eye. The inspiration? Sen. McCain was photographed this week playing poker on his smart phone at a Senate Foreign Relations Committee meeting on the Syrian crisis. Oops.

One incident of squirming statesmanship that didn’t make it into the Post’s gallery occurred in 1943, during a press briefing following the Quebec Conference between FDR, Churchill and then-Canadian premier W.L. Mackenzie King.

An article from the time headlined Churchill’s fidgety behavior – crossing and recrossing his legs, loosening his collar, mopping his forehead and hurling one of his famous cigars away just half-smoked. As the press didn’t seem to emerge from the event with any scoop, perhaps Churchill was simply bored with the proceedings – and in a hurry to move on. (At the summit, the allies had agreed to begin discussing a plan to invade France.)

All that’s to say that distraction, evermore, is subjective. Sometimes it’s pure escapism, sometimes a natural response to our less-then-enchanting surroundings. McCain perhaps should have mustered more focus for a crucial hearing. (And our devices certainly make it easy for us to turn away.) And yet, given how long hearings tend to last, perhaps he just needed a bit of a break…


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