Meet the Jetsons. Welcome to Entropy 101

by Emily Kemme

I am on a first name basis with entropy. Both kids are home from college for the summer, both imprinting their individual marks on my formerly pristine house. Harrison, who is cemented onto a chair at the kitchen island, ears encased in enormous headphones, is singularly engrossed with studying for a graduate school entrance exam. Isabelle whirls in and out of the house like the Tasmanian Devil, with each twirl depositing another layer of her closet onto the kitchen floor or furniture. Her focus is on two topics:  a restaurant job, and an off-site internship. Neither kid has the energy to clean up around them, put clothes where they ought to go, or direct their attention to any place other than where they have decided it should be, for the time being. Harrison says we are living in a classic microcosm of entropy, as I watch energy (the kids’ clothing) spread itself out evenly all over the kitchen. As I was trying to rationalize why this must happen, the answer suddenly hit me. Talking to my kids is just like what happened the other day while making a request of SIRI, Apple’s invisible smartphone know-it-all — oops, I mean, assistant. It was mid-afternoon, on a drowsily hot summer day, and I was driving homewards, returning from Denver. I asked SIRI to find me the closest Starbucks, and she interpreted what I said. The next thing I knew, SIRI was directing me to the nearest topless nightclub. In my weary frustration, as I yelled at her, telling her to listen to what I was saying, I realized that I was no longer paying attention to all the other homeward-bound, Friday afternoon traffic. It was tunnel vision, of the most dangerous order.

Harrison explained it to me:  a room becomes messy with clothing more easily than it is cleaned. The dresser in which an article of clothing belongs represents a system of energy that is gradually spreading its energy around the room, creating a disordered state. Because there is a finite amount of energy in any physical system (in this case, the dresser), and that energy can’t be extinguished, as it moves from one part of the system (the kid’s hands), it must reappear in another part.

He is very scientifically oriented, and used a whole lot of words about which I had no clue, words like thermodynamic equilibrium and per unit mass, compared with entropy per mole. That was about the time I checked out of our conversation, preferring instead to direct my attention to evaluate why SIRI refused to listen to my instructions, almost causing a major traffic disturbance.

The human mind was not designed to order sushi, play on Facebook, and change traffic lanes, all at the same time.

The human mind was not designed to order sushi, play on Facebook, and change traffic lanes, all at the same time. Something’s gotta give.

It is because SIRI is a machine. Of course, this is probably not news to you.

More specifically, SIRI is “a hands-free device that translates speech to text”, and is very distracting, particularly when the dictated instruction is not accurately transcribed. In fact, any of these new dashboard apps which are the requisite hot tickets for car purchasers, are actually not all that snazzy, when you consider the bigger picture. It might seem fantastically Space-Age to be able to scroll through and delete your emails, post status reports on Facebook (as if anyone cares that you are stuck in rush-hour traffic and are dying for a latté), or call your favorite sushi restaurant to order four pieces of maguro, a New York roll, a Tokyo roll, and three Volcano rolls (to match the simmering anger gnawing at your belly), all to be miraculously delivered as you simultaneously open the garage door to your home. All this Jetsonesque multitasking, while sounding efficient as can be, is not a good idea. Because we are concentrating on a task, (getting an inanimate device to understand our speech), we risk developing “tunnel vision,” or “inattention blindness.” Police reports are full of statements like, “I didn’t see that firetruck in my rearview mirror,” because drivers are paying attention to just one thing.

Instead of scanning the road from left-to-right, up-and-down, as we were all taught in Driver’s Ed, our energy is distributed in our psyche, spread out to create an equilibrium or balance, while we concentrate on addressing all of those topics in our heads. This creates anxiety, the natural offshoot of the worrisome thought that you may have forgotten to ask for extra wasabi when you placed your sushi order. The next thing you know, you’ve tuned out the significance of a red light.

When we concentrate on just one thing, drivers develop "tunnel vision," or "inattention blindness." Entropy is only one missed red light away.

When we concentrate on just one thing, drivers develop “tunnel vision,” or “inattention blindness.” Entropy is only one missed red light away.

“Self-organizing systems engage in a continual dialogue with the environment and must adapt themselves to changing circumstances to keep internal entropy at a manageable level.” Complicated? Maybe, but what it boils down to is that the human mind was not designed to juggle sushi, play on Facebook, and change lanes, all at the same time, and it isn’t very smart to give it a try. There are too many concepts to consider; focus is impossible, and our minds will check out, in order to avoid stressing out.

It all comes down to how much entropy you can handle in your life. Sure, there are some people who can multitask with consummate ease, experienced practitioners of the front-burner, back-burner shuffle. I don’t think most humans are capable of keeping that many balls in the air for the sustainable amount of time it takes to effectively accomplish any one of them. I suppose we can always try. You may end up with a crunched front bumper. Or, clothing all over the floor of your kitchen, at the very least.

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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished,, or on Twitter @EmFeedsYou . Life inspired. Vodka tempered.





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Susan June 29, 2013 - 9:30 am

Alas, the skill of multitasking, almost disappears with age. When I’m talking on the phone with Jenny, she will say, “Mom, stop whatever you are doing and talk to me, or let’s just hang up,” not in meanness, but as a gentle reminder!

Joanne June 29, 2013 - 9:29 am

Puts it all in perspective! And a great read!

Lynne Hugo June 28, 2013 - 8:14 pm

Oh my. As a post-graduate mother, I am all too familiar with entropy. What I want to know is how you took that picture of yourself in the rear view mirror on the highway going 65?

Emily Kemme June 28, 2013 - 9:29 pm

Who says I was only going 65mph?


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