Multiple tasking: attending and ignoring as the embodied work of a car driver making a phonecall.




Eric Laurier,

Department of Geography and Topographic Science,

University of Glasgow,

Glasgow G12 8QQ,

Scotland, UK


Fig. 1 Driving, talking and reading a document.


1. Multi-tasking


It is probably nothing new that people have to do more than one activity at the same time - centuries ago a seamstress in her house might well be sewing whilst a stew cooked over a fire which she also kept an eye on so that her little children did not stumble into it and burn themselves or spill their dinner. The observation that contemporary workers will deal with their e-mail whilst talking on the phone, eating an apple and attempting to shuffle paper around on their desk is taken to be a sign of the competing demands of life as it is now. It seems more likely that the demands have changed and will go on changing whilst we do our best to find an appropriate level of attention to each activity. We may have to learn more than how much attention to pay to each activity, we might well learn how we attend to one then the other. With not just those that we are aware of already but with new activities arriving all the time to combine with the old, we may have to learn which long-established and brand-new activities can be combined and which cannot. Children from some heartbreaking mishaps learn about trying to run fast whilst carrying an ice cream cone or a cup of juice.


The trouble with multi-tasking is not simply whether accidents actually happen because someone was trying to do too many things at the same time. Trouble is worked out according to the rights and obligations accruing to the categories of actors involved. For the child who trips up and spills their ice cream or juice onto the ground then it is perhaps no big deal, however should someone be a driver who is involved in an accident then matters become more serious.


2. Ways of seeing : attending and ignoring

With the pervasive influence of cultural studies and critical theory in human geography there has been a correspondingly heavy use of the terms of imaginary and imagination. While there are many spatial phenomena to which the "geographical imagination" or "spatial imaginary", might provide insight there are hosts of spatial practices to which its application causes confusion. In the weave of uses of an 'imaginary geography' we might consider mental images of places, seeing aspects of things (i.e. a face in a cloud in the sky), with creativity, also with misperception and with pretence. What can be said about imagination (and imaginary, image, imaginative) in short then is that it is a family of concepts that is heterogeneous, and, related rhizomatically not just to one another but to terms such as gazing, looking, picturing etc. (and, incidentally, 'the imaginary' does not provide any kind of foundation for building yet another theory of space and place). In this article I am going to be pursuing activities which by some uses could be characterised as the "unimaginative" geographies of driving and talking and yet they are hardly irrelevant for being so. These activities involve amongst other things: looking closely, gazing rapidly, glancing through a window and a visually reflexive production of location in a setting. Such practices of seeing are often wrongly attached to imaginative geographies or simply glossed over as 'real world' or gifted without regret to cognitive psychologists.


To clarify this point a little further, it would seem absurd to say that we drive in traffic by using an 'imaginary geography' since by that implication one could close one's eyes whilst driving and still drive perfectly well if one were imagining the geography of the roads rather than seeing or more appropriately attending to the geography of the road (Baker and Hacker ??). There are times and places when the geography of the road is imagined by novelists, planners, advertisers, caravanners planning a trip and so on (i.e. Cresswell, Merriman, Crouch). However to turn to these occasions, where imagination is appropriate after all, takes us some way away from haecceities of driving in traffic whilst talking on the telephone. While one cannot order someone to stop seeing what is before their eyes but can order them to stop looking at it, one can order someone to stop imagining such and such a place and get back to what they are supposed to be doing here and now. In this there are similarities to the request to 'pay attention.'

Wittgenstein, Zettel (2nd Edition) 1981 Basil Blackwell, Oxford (trans G. E. M. Anscombe):

  • 583. What is the difference between these two things: Following a line involuntarily---Following a line intentionally?
    What is the difference between these two things : Tracing a line with care and attention---Attentively observing how my hand follows a line?

    673. Attention is dynamic, not static - one would like to say. I begin by comparing attention to gazing but that is not what I call attention; and now I want to say that I find it is impossible that one should attend statically.

  • Paying attention to traffic, to phone call, to paperwork. 'Stand to attention' when shouted by a sergeant, is a command that a group of people as a unit should stand in uniform readyness for the next order. This is not so far from the command 'red + top light with no green light' of a traffic light to a queue of traffic facing toward it. Attention here then is readyness. However like imagination, attention belongs to a family of concepts along with attentively, attend, attending, attentive which I will not attempt to exhaustively describe here. Note the diversity in use between 'she attended the class but didn't listen to a word the teacher was saying' and 'she attended to every need of her dying mother'. Doing something attentively is to do it with care. Attending is close to orienting to.

    It is also the case that events can be said to hold someone's or some group's attention such as a dramatic or well-plotted film, so attention is also something that can be drawn from the observer rather than solely to do with the observer's effort.


    Ignoring? What are the features of ignoring. Can we say it is a noticeable lack of attention to something/someone we should perfectly well be properly paying attention (like Stanley on 'Snubs').


    By category we also get attention to Grand Prix driving as against the here and now of a London traffic jam.

    'You were ignoring me.' 'Ignore them and they'll go away.' 'You can ignore the other wine lists they're irrelevant'. What people ignore is a central problem for social theory - they ignore the society that oppresses them, they ignore the ideological nature of the news, they ignore racism, sexism etc. And in empirical social researchers, the social sciences seek and find such ignorance everywhere by the endless richness of which one can show that something 'omnirelevant' has not been attended to. Yet their is little concern with actual situation whereby we might find [ignoring] being accomplished by various as yet unexplicated methods. At a bus stop a woman with a substantial beard asks one person after another for cigarettes, the people at the bus stop ignore her. Inside Bridget's car the mobile phone starts ringing, she ignores it. It can be said then that ignoring is being aware of something or someone's request for attention and not yet taking up its request. And its request could be taken up in several ways on each and any occasion. Ignoring has its uses and they are not all impolite and negative.

    In driving a car the driver must also know what to devote their attention to - see the comment below on the speedo and other instrumentation.

    Attention can be paid just with the fingertips - stroking your cat. There is no sensible complaint that your were ignoring the cat because you were only attending to it with your fingers.

    Ignoring is an achievement too. It takes will and effort to ignore the traffic noise whilst talking on the phone. Would have to be careful here to delineate the uses of ignoring then - not in the sense of a snub - which is ..


    The queue is part of the scenic features which carry with it lesser request for attention. So Bridget doesn't have as much to ignore…

    Courseness is important but Sudnow's courseness is demanding of attention in jazz playing like driving if it were Grand Prix driving would require that level of absorption

    'module' 'channels' in psychology tend to get based around body parts - two ears means 2 channels in experiments with different sounds being fed in through each ear and yet clearly one can hear 2 pieces of music (badly) if they are played at the same time and you only had one ear. Just as you can see 2 different pieces of action (i.e. the ironing and the television soap even if you only have one eye).

    "… practice with two tasks concurrently will also help engender a time-sharing skill that is unrelated to the process of automaticity. It appears that the process revolves around the processing strategies that a person takes on in order to accomplish some task(s). Take for example a pilot who must learn how to survey the instruments and when to gather information from the ambient environment. Well the process is a complicated one requiring the pilot to make decisions (or processing controls) as to how to delegate his or her attention to which aspect of flying the plane most relevant to the particular moment in flight. Anyone who has flown a plane can immediately appreciate the difficulty that often comes into play in accomplishing such a feat, and it highlights one of the differences between novices and experts in flying (i.e., increased time-sharing skills). "

    From NASA report on Attention



    As noted earlier Bridget works for a wine distribution company that sells to and services pubs amd restaurants in London and Oxford. She is their only area manager, which involves her visiting the pubs and restaurants every day to check on sales figures, promote new wines, assist publicans and restaurant managers in setting their wine lists (for more on this kind of regional work see either Laurier (2001) or Laurier & Philo (2001)). As with Wiberg and Ljungberg's (1999) study of mobile telecommunications engineers there are time-frames which form a background to Bridget's travelling. For Bridget's day these are the quiet periods for visiting publicans and restaurant managers in the morning and mid afternoon. In the excerpts she is phoning a publican - "Reg" - who runs a wine bar in the City of London. This particular call is not unrepresentative of the bulk of Bridget's [office work] and, as noted earlier, my interest is in just how she gets [office work] done whilst also [driving in traffic].

    There are people Bridget phones every day are her managing director and secretarial staff. Reg is being phoned in the video-clips and stills because his venue is where today's work will finish up. It is one of the least flexible appointments of her day, others can be cancelled or adjusted without great disruption but the wine-tasting involves considerable preparation: offering Reg the wine list, choosing the wines, ordering the wines, delivering the wines, inviting the customers and Bridget turning up to do a talk to those customers on the wines chosen by Reg. At the time of the video it is late morning and she is on her way to somehwere else but wants to go over arrangements for "tonight" with Reg in case any last minute tasksneed to be done : e.g. getting extra bottles for the tasting.

    Three different sequences of office work that Bridget does while driving:

    1. [phoning a client to make arrangements] + [driving the car]

    2. [filling in a diary] + [driving the car]

    3. [finding the way using an A to Z] + [driving the car]

    Each gloss then to be further described . [Driving the car] collects a diversity of embodied and visually implicated practices. Some of which can be combined with parts of [office work]. Bridget waiting in an unmoving traffic queue combines her montioring of when she will need to move again with rooting around in her briefcase to pull out her mobile phone and her plastic wallet of today's relevant documentation (see also "Packing in the region".)

    If freeze frames are used you could show Bridget to be looking at documents instead of road but equally it is possible to use another freeze-frame and show she's looking at road and ignoring the documents. To deal with how she divides her attention a whole lot more is accessible if you watch the action unfold in real-time to discover how she looks from one to the other and does it in syncopation with the flow of traffic . Bridget's glancing and timely responses are the visually available criteria of her paying attention to the traffic. A fixed stare and immobile head might well be a sign that she was not paying attention, that she imagining being somewhere else.

    Driving while holding your mobile phone in your hand is illegal but being on the phone "hands free" is not. Bridget drives with her phone in her hand and is thus strictly speaking driving illegally. A designer's or planner's concern might be that conditions could be improved by re-design of the space. A space which clearly requires a lot of improvisation work to deal with since it has been designed for a driver and not an office worker. However another speculation along design lines is about urban traffic's slow movement and the concomitant chaining of cars. Bridget deliberately chose an automatic car to free up the hand that would normally deal with the gearstick and moreover the attention that matching gears to car acceleration, slope, current speed that using manual gears requires. She is making driving the car "hands-free" rather than making telephoning hands free.

    What is attention to many activities? What is undivided attention? Perhaps unanswerable, Bridget's attention is mostly divided.

    There are categories of activities whose logical predicates are complete attention - Grand Prix driving. Imagine if this category of driver were to try and sort out his diary whilst racing in a grand prix. A competent driver in non-adverse conditions carries with such an agent position the expectation that he/she will be able to talk at the same time. Using a mobile phone is arguably not that different from talking to a passenger whilst driving, but for legal prosecution purposes a passenger might be in a car and not be talking to the driver, whereas having a mobile phone in your hand is evidence (if still defeasible) of carrying out a conversation with someone else. Moreover surely part of its greater evidence of lack of attention is not that a driver is talking and driving but is also giving up one hand from the driving task for the operation of the phone.


    Image 1 - Pre-mobile call. Bridget pulls out product sheet that relates to the call she is about to make. Reads it for a couple of seconds whilst making intermittent glances at road as slows for approaching queue of traffic. Her right hand grasps the wheel and left holds the paper.

    Image 2: Car comes to halt with queued unmoving traffic ahead. Bridget turns full attention to finding mobile phone in briefcase. Traffic has been analysed by Bridget for the time it will at least make available to her at this juncture. Bridget starts to look for mobile phone - left hand prepares to reach for it, righ hand lets go of steering.

    Image 3 : Bridget reaches for mobile phone having spotted it in briefcase. Looking that is guiding her hand's movement to grab the mobile phone, meantime keeping lap at angle so as not to spill sheets. Her right hand remains out of the action.

    Image 4: With mobile phone nowin right hand, Bridget uses remaining fingers of right hand in combination with left hand to extract contact sheet from its stored location amongst other sheets in folder. This activity now requires her to watch where and what her fingers are going for.

    Image 5: Contact sheet successfully retrieved and brought to top of pile, Bridget is able to flick through pages to the correct page for Reg's phone number and details whilst glancing back up at traffic ahead to check for signs of impending movement (she can see several vehicle slots ahead of her own). The glancing is keeping her office activities in time with and timed toward impending traffic flow.

    Image 6: Time pressure on as Bridget from glance knows traffic will be moving soon and she will need to give greater hand and eye attention to it. She uses index finger of left hand to point toward for herself and 'hold' Reg;'s number, whilst keying the digits into her mobile phone with her right thumb.

    Image 7 : With near perfect timing Marge is finished dialing as the traffic begins to move again, the phone is ringing and while she waits for an answer she puts the contact sheet to the back of the documents, revealing the product sheet which was left in second position so that it would be revealed again as soon as she puts the contact sheet away.



    Videoclip 1 and Photostrip 1

    Phoning Reg requires more than a mobile phone alone, it requires Bridget's contact sheet and then the appropriate wine list for Reg's wine bar. Earlier in the paper I have described some of the featurs of driving-in-traffic, now, how is the office work paced so as to get it to fit into the spot of congestion that Bridget has spotted as a candidate office-work time-period?

    Bridget's office tasks:

    1. Reaching and getting the phone and documents

    2. Sorting the documents -

    Ordering of documents : this is a property arising out ofher piling - she has a top document - which is the product list which is the same one she knows she has given to Reg and that he will base his ordering on.

    For the contact list : that she picks it out and brings it to the front just while she is getting Reg's number and then as soon as it is finished with it goes back to the back, leaving at that moment the top document top again. (dealing with these docs is not like dealing with the pages of a novel, they are of different kinds and their sequencing is much more flexible than that of the pages of a novel.)

    3. Using the mobile keyboard to punch in Reg's number as read from her contact list

    4. Listening to dialtone and then getting through

    5. Getting through to Reg and assessing his availibility, at which point the product list is relevant, though it will not be attended to in quite the same way or all the time.

    On her lap she can only read one document at time. "Read" during these activities is more like glance at, as a public speaker might glance at her overheads to keep her talk on course and roughly structured and timed. At a big office desk whilst making a document-supported phonecall we might glance across several documents in front of us - though once we have located the document we want to read we will move it and stop glancing at the others?

    Bridget's RIGHT foot is on the accelerator, her LEFT on the brake. The kind of movement they have to do is actually real simple compared to walking. Bridget drives sitting down not standing up. A car is a kind of powered wheelchair - it does not require the balance and coordination of walking or running. All Bridget has to do as she sees the car in front pull away is assess its acceleration and press correspondingly hard on the accelerator as she lets go with her LEFT foot on the brake. All she has to is press, harder or softer. No need for the fine art of clutch control - which she had previously mastered. Her footwork has no contribution to dealing with her documents and to the conversation with Reg. She also does not need to look to check on the position of her feet, she knows where the pedals are. She could find them in the dark. Compare this with when she has to look where her hands are going (for the phone, to pull out a document).

    The road ahead is straight so the car does not even require steering at this point so Bridget's hands are freed up from the directing the vehicle.




    Videoclip 1: Real-time swapping of documents

    Videoclip 2 : Real-time lifting of documents



    Image 1 : Mobile call in vivo. Bridget glances at product list while waiting for Reg to start speaking to her.

    Image 2 : Bridget moves wine list upwards with left hand to balance it on the steering wheel in preparation for reading whilst driving. Right hand holds the telephone.

    Image 3 : The car's pulling away and Bridget's letting go of paperwork to put lever into 'drive' position causes the winelist to slip down back on to Bridget's lap. She is watching the car ahead and talking to Reg

    Image 4 : Winelist remains out of Bridget's sight line as she attends to the road ahead whilst also talking to Reg - which the list can help her with if she finds a moment to get it back into her sight. Her left hand is on the wheel to orient the car for a twist in the road ahead.


    Image 5 : Bridget reaches down and very quickly grabs corner of document with her steering hand just after and as a follow on movement from setting the indicator ticking and returns itto the steering wheel with document held by its corner. These are fingered moves and not just the hand as a unit, since she used her pinky, ring and centre finger to catch the indicator lever whilst getting her thumb and index finger into the pincer shape necessary for grasping the document.


    Image 6 : The majority of Bridget's looking is directed toward monitoring the traffic ahead but she makes occasional quick glanes at the document gripped to the steering wheel. She uses the shape of fingers she has made in the preceding move to now keep a hold of the document with her pincer fingers while her three remaining digits now hold the wheel. Five fingers do not allow her to do five different actions at once, but they are evidently doing a pair here.

    Image 7: Bridget makes a quick glance at the document in its realigned position.

    Videoclip 2 and photostrip 2.

    Bridget prepares for her turn to accelerate (having seen the moving traffic wave coming her way) by balancing her copy of the wine list for Reg against the steering wheel. The paper slips back down again as the car accelerates. Bridget goes about getting the document back into 'proximate-to-forward window' and 'stable' view in another way by grasping it between her thumb and forefinger of her LEFT hand. Her LEFT hand is also her steering wheel hand. Her RIGHT hand is holding her mobile phone top to her ear (note : the placement of a mobile phone is done through hand to ear coordination - subsequently feel of the ear-piece against the ear and minor adjustments if sounds is poor).

    Once the paper wine list is moved UP from her lap it allows Bridget to flick the centre of her visual attention more rapidly between the road ahead which matters to her driving and her feet on the pedals, and the document up close which matters to her conversation. It means that neither visual field has to be in her peripheral vision whilst she looks at the other, they are rather off-centre and disattended to as an embodied matter of looking. Or it might be better to say she is actively looking one at a time, and as the driving accelerates the look to the road and traffic ahead is correspondingly frequent and attentive to the speed of the changes in the scene and the actions she needs to in response to it.

    At the other end of the phonecall Reg may or may not be looking at his copy of the document, there is no indication from Bridget that she wants him to read it now, she worjs with the assumption that he has read it and selected from it. her use of the product list now is related to his earlier activities with the same list and 'going over' it with Reg is a way of finalising his selection regardless. It is a sub-list of her entire list of products - categorised according to client, from this list he has chosen 6 wines. Without access to Reg's voice , and what Bridget is looking at, can we be confident that they are "going over" the wine list? Yes but with only a limited sense of how. But my attention is also divided and from the passenger seat is more centred on the rhythm of driving and how the phone-activities are put into tempo by it.

    Bridget's document supports her activities in the car since it's also there to help her regain her attention to what she is doing with Reg should she lose the place in that conversation because she has had to devote full attention to driving for a long enough time that she cannot keep up with talk or indeed keep 'ahead' of the talk (like being told a telephone number to memorise without pen & paper and without being allowed to stop talking - one cannot then engage in saying the number silently and repetitively). Beside each wine on the list are notes on its origins, its taste and its price. Notes that Bridget as part of her skills an easily elaborate on but that also assist in "going over" with Reg as she checks that he wants the 2 Toscanini etc. He still has time to add or subtract wines from the list at this point according to any re-planning he has done and more importantly from what should now be the best estimate of his customer numbers for wine tasting tonight (in 4 hours time).

    The doc with the call gives just enough awareness. What more would it be worth adding on that could be manageable given the demands of timing and peripheral monitoring on Bridget's attention?


    Some very brief notes on other videoclips (not available for viewing here).

    DIARY : When Bridget is filling in the diary, she asks me to do it because she is travelling too fast on a dual carriageway to do it herself. Without me there it would either have had to wait or she would have had to pull over.

    A to Z : When she is investigating the A to Z she is using it to plan the next stage of her journey when she abandons the car to catch the Tube into the City of London. Once again she draws on my presence in the car to get me to read out Reg's address from her contact sheet so that she can look it up in the A to Z. Saves herself dealing with the document pack that we saw in the Videoclip 1 above. Also attunes to my greenhorn knowledge of getting across London in the tube by not getting me to work out the route. She uses her spare fingers to hold the pages she has found in the A to Z (Reg's address page, index and then Tube map on back) whilst using her hand/arm to hold the steering wheel. Once again manages to squeeze it into opportunity of traffic queuing up for a roundabout to check A to Z and the A to Z is ditched as she meets the roundabout. Has she got the job done exactly in time for reaching the roundabout or does she hold out at the end to provide for a theatrical flourish as she chucks the A to Z aside? It is on camera after all...



    From other research subjects : comparative techniques for doing paperwork whilst in the car:

    Sylvia : post-its on air-bag, switches between "hands free" and hand-held according to signal strength, background noise and privacy.

    Penny : taxi note-pad secured to dashboard, always "hands-free"

    Bridget & Ally : order forms etc. on lap while in traffic jams though will also park if traffic is fast moving. Neither uses "hands free"

    Marge : works while parked in various back lots.

    Tie between Bridget's use of the document, her driving and the phone call. She does not write on document only reads document because she has no spare hands. One hand steering, one hand phone.

    Sylvia uses post-its because they can be 'held in place' on steering wheel air-bag for her to write on with her lefthand. Penny solves the writing problem by having a small notepad secured to the dashboard with pen clipped to it - at her right hand.

    Doing fieldwork with Ally, she has to pull over when she wrote down directions as they were given to her over the phone. She also had to park the car because the direction were for the immediately next part of getting to "B". At other times she is reading A4 sheets of customer order forms balanced on her lap but she did not attempting to write anything on these forms.

    The stickyness of post-its has certain affordances of great utility in a car workspace. The post-it stays where you left it - the motion of the car spills over cups and piles of paper that are not well secured. Where a document is put is an important part of its status and function. The post-its on Sylvia's air-bag were only ever the morning calls' memos for dealing with later and they were reminders addressed to herself (post-its in shared offices are frequently addressed to other workers by gestures such as sticking them onto their computer screens). Bridget stuck post-its into her A to Z as pagemarkers with clients' addresses on. Post-it-less pages were thereby marked as irrelevant when Bridget was flicking through the pages searching for a client's address and part of the post-it's affordance was that it made marked pages more likely to be open to the fingers flicking through them. If a piece of paper doesn't stay where it was last put then the intention displayed in its putting can be lost.. As in documents put in alphabetical order, or an in-tray with the priority file put at the top of the pile or Marge putting the addresses of her venues in the page of the A to Z which she will use with those addresses in finding her way to their pubs and restaurants.



    3. dividing attention between driving and other activities

    Drivers in traffic are not only driving-together with other drivers (in that there are other participants producing the traffic around them in which they move) they can be amongst other things (see below) on the mobile phone participating with some other party who is not involved in the traffic ( two participation frameworks). Each organisation, the organisation of talk and the organisation of driving, constrain what can be done with the other and when. A guess on my part at this stage is that driving asymmetrically constrains the talk (which is just as well of course since an error in the production of a course through traffic has far more consequences than an error in the course of a conversation (one can apologise during a mobile phone call for a mistake due to traffic pressure but not to other drivers for hitting them due to speaking on a mobile phone)). Goffman (i.e. 1974) frequently made play of how people could be involved in multiple participation frameworks : primary, secondary and up to some practical limit. However Goffman is not getting to how the timing of the frameworks is produced (instead they appear as timeless frameworks) whereas a conversing drvier has to find a rhythmic way of switching between the two and at times allowing them to flow on in parallel or dropping one altogether.

    There are legitimate involvements of driving that could cause an accident but are dealt with as part of the commonsense grounds of driving: looking for too long at speedo, fuel gauge or rear view mirror. Learner drivers have to learn how to divide their attention appropriately between monitoring the road ahead, the rear view mirror and the instrument panel. "The road ahead" is moreover a gloss over a lively context which is constantly changing and may have several events emerging within it which have to be prospectively monitored for and categorised accordingly (i.e. child stepping off a pavement without looking, traffic lights changing, a lorry reversing, a car parking, roadworks, a sharp bend etc.)

    Marge is actively glancing then, the duration and iteration shifting according to changes with its objects of attention. Prime is what the traffic is doing, second is what she garners from her document. (I'll return to this later).

    The occasion for her reading is finding herself stuck in slow moving traffic. In slow moving traffic, the driver that a driver drives behind changes fairly slowly too. Does that have any further consequences?

    Jammed as a consequence is the traffic condition she is looking for at certain points when she wants to check her A to Z or pull out a document or/and make a phonecall. As a daily feature of driving in London she knows she will often find on her journey. Like most drivers driving their familiar routes she can also anticipate where and when there are likely to be bottlenecks.

    This is the "geography" of the roads that she utilises in order to then commence the client calls witnessed in the video strip. (Note also that when I filled in her diary I was asked to do it because she could not safely try to do in the speed of traffic she was driving in but nevertheless needed to do it as her next task having completed a phonecall with a client and made an appointment.').

    The parallels with Heath et al.'s (1999) London underground train driver who knows the underground network : the mopbile workers know their well-travelled roads as twists and turns, one ways, traffic lights and roadworks. They know it as likely to be busy or quiet at certain times of day. The glances at the road ahead made by Bridget in the previous and following paragraphs are informed by and given expectations according to this experienced travelling of the roads. This is the background expectation from which Bridget will say with a hint of surprise in her voice "it's not normally queued up here at this time of day."

    Slow moving traffic is a regular, prevalent and potentially stressful feature of driving in central London and yet one that we can see has its uses (Perry et al. forthcoming). Features change according to the geography and also a concerted kind of rhythm. A rhythm which allows certain activities to be turned to but not others. The laptop computer, for instance, never comes out. Call out sheets and order forms are not filled out. Important point - paperwork with phonework is not all of a kind (O'Hara et al 2000) . Also counterpoint of Marge, one of the mobile workers from our other fieldstudies (see Laurier & Philo (2001) "Packing in the region") who in her smaller city is less often in long slow moving traffic chains and thus very seldom bothers to even try to pull out her work whilst driving. Her paper work and phoning waits for and is done when parked up at venues.

    Fast moving traffic is a problem because Bridget cannot look at her paperwork. She cannot look at her paperwork because she has to pay greater attention to the traffic. Traffic sometimes demands minimal attention - when Bridget is parked and when she grinds to a halt in a traffic jam. It is not just "sometimes" then it is when Bridget removes her car from the traffic or when the traffic is observably jammed. The "due care and attention" required of drivers by the law varies with traffic speed and activity (i.e. traffic lights, parking, queuing traffic, navigating around an obstacle). How does Marge see her opportunity in the traffic as an ongoing flow of potential requirements for re-action?

    In the lead up to video footage (see below), Bridget has spotted a jam where she expects there to be one. From her lead-up to what she's going to do - I also knew that this was the moment to switch on the camcorder. I see that unmoving traffic ahead too, I see her reaching into her briefcase and then a minute or so later reaching for her phone and wine list. It had been a week since I had started shadowing her and I was learning to see these opportunities developing in the traffic too and to see when Bridget was "going for it".

    From Sudnow (1978) the nature of driving that keeps it progressing as feet pushing pedals in lreation to the road ahead is "courseness". Courseness is akin to the prospective and retrospective involvement in action that increases the driver's involvement in it. Listening into a conversation versus it being in the background. Dancing only 4 steps in a section without music at once versus playing the music, listening in, finding the rhythm and going for the moves in the anticipated unfolding rhythm. My participation in Bridget's ongoing engagement with driving to "B" is of a kind where I am "observing" as someone also engaged in "going to B" and getting my work done along the way. My work is tied to the rhythm of Bridget's. My looking is not only implicated in this fashion, I also see what she does at the wheel with the looking that comes from also having driven competently for many years in congested city traffic. The kind of looking that results in finding yourself as a passenger pressing your foot hard down on an imaginary pedal on the floor when you see a hazard on the road ahead before the driver reacts to it. Like someone listening into or part of a conversation then I am analysing the flow of traffic too as it relates to what this car and those other cars should do next.

    Sacks (1992 : 650) warrant for analysis as the appropriate gloss for what members are doing whilst participating in conversation. Are drivers doing traffic analysis as participants in traffic or is there a gloss which might better collect their mutual production of this local order?




    During driving Bridget (and other travelling workers like her) pick up documents to scan only when there are long enough pauses in the traffic . How they go about finding and estimating sufficient pauses in the traffic is a method we are interested in. "All variables being equal" of pscyhology lab simulations does not apply for a driver - they have to monitor the road to find and produce stable episodes of interaction.

    Ryave and Schenkein (1974) make the observation that during an extended periond of observing people walking on a busy pavement nobody bumped into anyone else. After 3 months spent in passenger seats of 6 different mobile workers who were dividing their attention far more than the average driver - there were no collisions. It is not simply compliance with the law, it is not simply good luck.

    "The avoidance of collisions is a basic index to the accomplished nature of walking : that participants to the setting 'manage' not to collide with one another or with some other (i.e. physical) natural boundary is to be viewed as the product of the concerted work on the part of those co-participants." (Ryave 1974, p266)

    Though it turns on the simplicity that traffic is 'laned' and 'trained' may make driving in it much less demanding than walking on a crowded pavement. Yet a driver's awareness of other cars and their drivers is much more restricted than that of pedestrians awarness of one another. As Lynch (1993, p156) points out, when driving at night 'the vehicular umwelt is largely restricted to a frontal and rearward view of a stream of lights, in which headlights illuminate a linear foreground, mirrors enable a limited rearward vision, and the fore-and-aft placement of lights and signals provides for the visible presence of intentional actions within the line of traffic.' Lynch calls the arrangement of lanes, gaps, speeds and directionality, a topological linearity and notes that the highway system of signage, roads etc is assembled for such linearity and supports it through its circumscription. For instance a 'one way' street is a restriction that reduces the permitted/legitimate (though not possible) locomotion on that 'one way street.' Or a motorway that completely seperates oncoming traffic - there should be no oncoming traffic on the motorway. Cars go very fast on the motorway in great numbers because the speed of approach of another car is usually far less than 100mph (where there is contraflow it can be as high as 200mph). Moreover there are long lines of sight and three demarcated lanes to use which drivers located their cars into according to the relational categories of slow, medium and fast driving. Added to which motorway drivers "keep their distance" as a relative measure to their velocity.

    "Driving in traffic trades on the presupposition of a world known in common; on members knowing which side of the road to drive on when going in a particular direction; on knowing that traffic lights are signals which convey instructions which have to be obeyed if sanction - if not accident - is to be avoided, on knowing that certain flashing lights on cars indicate the direction in which drivers intend to turn, on knowing that other lights on cars are brake lights, and so on. Thus, the world of driving - like any other aspect of the real world known in common - consists of common understandings of, and orientations to, the social practices of driving through which the orderliness of driving in traffic is produced. Social practices which provide for the production of social action are essentially tied to the space and spatial arrangements within which action takes place. For example, indicating is a social practice and it is a spatial arrangement for conducting the orderly flow of traffic. Spatial arrangements are known in common and essentially tied to and displayed through social practices for producing spatially situated activities." Crabtree et al. 2001,


    Attending to traffic lights - will vary according to one's position in the queue. The car at the front (i.e. 1st in queue) must be as or more attentive as cars behind or will find horn blaring at them when lights turn green. If you are say 9th in the queue you can be fairly inattentive to 'your' lights and just wait until you see forward car movement ahead of you. And you can be completely inattentive to the traffic lights that are direct at the cross-traffic and pedestrians since not only are they too far away but they are the extra cues the front cars use to pull away right on time.






    The declining anxiety of the competent driver compared to the learner. Not just that you know the rules and that there are rules. You know that other drivers obey them. More than that you know how and when drivers obey them. Not just that a driver becomes more 'certain' in what they see and what they do in relation to what they see - they have become a driver (akin to Sudnow's sense of becoming a jazz piano player).

    Curious that competent drivers never compliment another's good driving ("Didn't she brake well!" "What a well-timed piece of overtaking." but only tend to remark on bad driving ("where the fuck does he think he's going?" "don't cut corners asshole!" or simply "BEEEEP" of the horn.) Is this because these expressions are marking violations and not actually insults (at first)? It might also be that violations are detectable events/actions whereas particularly skilfull conformity with the highway code is hard to notice and unremarkable? Like a jazz group when playing well together are showing their good play in doing their good play, particularly good playing has to be made observable through a marked passage that can be heard and seen to be a solo. And going back to the driving point, you hear the bum notes but not the good ones? And the bum notes are ones where another player might stop or call out "don't rush this section."

    Driving erratically is a noticeable behaviour because all other drivers are producing an orderly unerratic flow of traffic . Spotting an erratic driver will oblige other drivers to increase their 'due care and attention' because they can no longer be sure of what that kind of driver will do next. (Erratic might be produced by a certain length of 'bad' driving shown by changes in locomotion, where a shorter episode may just be a momentary lapse, foot slipped on clutch, or lost grip on steering wheel etc.) Once again the details of the changes in locomotion as not otherwise categorisable, as overtaking, parking, seeking a slot in a paralleltrain of traffic, are important. The 'erratic' driver reminds us that what drivers-in-traffic bank on and should bank on is that they can methodically establish what other drivers will do next.

    In response to the latter a driver seeing an indicator flashing and car pushing its nose into their lane can in response to that 'intention' use/make a pause/gap (as we can while talking use a particular placement of silence to make a pause/gap). In the flow of traffic allowing someone to enter into the flow just cannot be done by the same method, using silence to show an offer to a potential speaker who has shown their intention to speak by catching a glance, clearing their throat etc. see Sacks(1992).

    A 'gap' in the traffic is not an absolute measurement by any means, other drivers see it by its position in the flow of traffic. Shorter in slow moving traffic, longer in fast moving traffic, 'these "gaps" between cars are temporally composed and modified by a complex assemblage of driver's actions mediated by and expressed in the traffic.' (p155). Drivers can see a "gap" as a slot in the traffic offered to some other driver as relationally parid to the previous action of that other driver (entering from a side road, indicating etc.). That a "gap" is an offer can be confirmed in the UK by flashing of front headlights (in Italy in a similar sequence of events this a warning not to attempt to obstruct the oncoming driver - i.e. disconfirmation of the "gap" as an offer to take this location in the flow of traffic). In this sense driving can be said to have actions that are adjacently paired.

    A honking of the car horn by the car seemingly offering a gap to another driver to pull in front of them can be taken as a complaint about a violation of the highway code. However to be heard as an offer, complaint or compliment it has to be timely. If the driver does not honk their horn suitably close in time for the horn to be heard as a response another driver's actions then it will be a mystery as to what or who they are sounding their horn at. Pedestrians and other drivers may look around to see if they can detect what the horn does refer to. Indeed sounding the horn is a finely timed action since otherwise its intended recipient and object may be lost.

    Bridget has mutual awarenesss (CSCW term) of the activities of other drivers through the medium of their vehicles - the vehicles positions in the flow of traffic and its scenic features (i.e. traffic lights, bus stops, filter lanes) are of greater import to her than the position of the driver within each vehicle. The road is a work setting where drivers' activities have to be coordinated and articulated? Face-to-face interaction is rare - though Bridget does see faces from time to time. Smiles or waves thankyous. A wave is more common. Failing to wave for a traffic favour is a notable absence. These are failures to recognise the generosity of an offer? Nevertheless the point is that in this complicated, massive and sometimes fast-moving public space drivers operate without depending on face-to-face contact.

    Just as we learn to walk and then we learn to walk and talk together, so the expectation is that we will be able to drive and talk once we have become experience and competent drivers. Talk to passengers or other people on their car phone but seldom to other drivers. Oliver Sacks (1985, pp15-16) describes a patient with neurological damage humming songs alongside his morning routine of dressing and getting to work. If he was interrupted from his humming he got lost, in other words, without the sequence and rhythm provided by the song he could not do the next appropriate thing, socks first, then shoes after and then walk his way to work. ".. if he is interrupted and loses the thread, he comes to a complete stop, doesn't know his clothes - or his owm body. He sings all the time - eating songs, dressings songs, bathing songs, everything." Whilst it might be charming to apply the metaphor of singing to these daily chores which are demanded by competent human adulthood what we can take from Sack's description is quite the opposite: that we are easily able to get dressed and eat our dinner without singing. We can and do make the moves in the right order to get dressed without putting our shoes on first and then attempting to put our socks on. We can rapidly and routinely reproduce the endogenous orders to these activities and it is nearly only the neurologically altered that require the controlling of an everyday activity via an exogenous order. To bring Sack's singing man back to Bridget's case, she can converse on the phone and drive at the same time without one having to provide the order for the other. Most of the time she can keep the two courses of activity unfolding by their own logics. During the fieldwork I witnessed directions being given over the mobile phone which did in that particular case shape what was happening with the driving (see also Schegloff 1972).

    Learner drivers compared to Bridget, or any other competent driver, are conspicuous by : at a standstill at traffic lights, usually pulling away after too long a delay (this 'too long' is observed by all and known by all and horns will sound if a driver strays into it - it's not the same 'too long' for queued slow-moving traffic.) Equally learners may accelerate too quickly and then have to slam on the breaks, or push down the clutch and start off jerkily and risk stalling. They have not acquired the competent acceleration and deceleration in relation to the vehicle in front but also with a sense of the vehicles behind. So it's not just speed, it is this smoothness of movement in timely response traffic devices (i.e. lights, gaps etc.) that is acquired through well practiced driving. (P. tells of the final test of her driving instructor - placing his glass of gin & tonic on the roof of her car and marking her drive around the block without spilling it.)

    The arhythmic, jerky, stuttering and slow car 'behaviour' of learner drivers is felt by them as trouble with their feet on the pedals in relation to the movements they know they ought to be able to make to blend in with the other competent drivers. The frustration of the learner driver in a stick shift is mostly felt in the feet where the left foot has to work the clutch and the right deals with acceleration and deceleration via the brake pedal and the acclerator pedal. Learner drivers notoriously have difficulties with finding and easing their way through the "biting point" of the clutch. Not only do they have to feel for the biting point by listening to the engine, noting slight shifts in the vehicle's tilt, they also have to coordinate their approach to it with just the right rising pressure on the accelerator. Further horrors can be added to the learner's experiences when they discover that sizes, spacing, give and length of travel on the pedals vary between vehicles (unlike say the arrangement of piano keys or height of steps on stairs). It is briefly brought back to problematic attention for competent drivers if they switch between stick shifts and automatics or from very small cars to vans and vice versa.

    How is that Bridget and any other driver can slip into a spot in the traffic so quickly ~ monitoring the developing flow of traffic prospectively. They can anticipate where it is going, when it will stop, when it will pull away, or, rather, when the pulling away will reach their position (as a surfer watches waves to time when the wave will reach them and they will have to do something about it). Drivers develop way of increasing their awareness of how long the traffic lights stay green for and when they are going to turn green. Watching for cross traffic coming to a halt as a precursor to their green light - this method is visible when you see false starts from some cars because there has been a green man rather than a green light for them. They must be doing more than simply watching their own traffic lights - since nothing has happened at their light. This is not surprising but it is evidence of their methods for quick starts at traffic lights.

    Bridget "keeps the action underway" (Sudnow 1978) by anticipating pauses in her driving and using up this otherwise 'dead time' to take up other timed courses of action.




    4. Unfinished remarks

    What is that this article has been briefly trying to reflect on? Perhaps conversation as it is sequenced into inaudible activities and asymmetrically available settings (i.e. Bridget having to fit her conversation into the rhythm of the traffic and how much Reg can be expected or needs to be aware of). Multiple tasks requiring attention is not only a feature of driving and doing office work so how is attention rhythmically distributed by us in the course of other activities to the course of those activities?

    Our access to Bridget's view of the documents and the road ahead is restricted by the camera angle. We can see her head position, whether she is looking at the document or at the road ahead - we do not see what she sees in either case. This apparently methodological problem is not solvable by adding a "point of view" camera-shot since Bridget's looking is an implicated looking. She sees what she sees as part and parcel of what she is doing, has done and is going to try and do next.

    In using visual materials to get at the order in doing driving and office work would it be better to say that I am depicting Bridget's activities? Though depicting is in this case reflexively tied to the description which accompanies each photo/video clip along with this commentary. This document is in that sense in some ways an instructed looking at ethnographic material.



    Mike Ball "The Visual Availability and Local Organisation of Public Surveillance Systems: The Promotion of Social Order in Public Spaces", Sociological Research Online, vol. 5, no. 1, (2000)

    Briem, V. & L.R. Hedman (1996) "Behavioural effects of mobile telephone use", Ergonomics, Vol.38 (1996) 2536-2562.

    Crabtree, Andy, John, A. Hughes, Jon O'Brien, & Tom Rodden. "On the Social Organization of Space and the Design of Electronic Landscapes". Techne, 5:2 (2001

    Foucault, Michel. Discipline and Punish, Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1979.

    Goffman, Erving. Frame Analysis. New York : Harper & Row, 1974

    Heath, C., J. Hindmarsh & P. Luff. "Interaction in isolation : the disclocated world of the London Underground Train Traveller", Sociology, 33, (1999) 555-576

    Laurier, Eric 'The region as a socio-technical accomplishment', inWireless World, ed. Barry Brown, Nicola Green and Richard Harper, London: Springer Verlag, 2001

    Laurier, Eric & Chris Philo "Packing in the region with: a car, mobile phone, cardboard cut-outs, some carbon paper and a few boxes", paper in progress, University of Glasgow, 2001

    Lee, J. D. R., and D. R. Watson, eds.Interaction in Urban Public Space, Final Report - Plan Urbain. Manchester UK: Dept. of Sociology, University of Manchester, 1993.

    Lynch, M. Scientific practice and ordinary action: ethnomethodology and social studies of science. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

    O'Hara, K., M. Perry, A. Sellen & B. A. T. Brown. "Exploring the relationship between mobile phone and document use during business travel". 2000

    Parker, D et al. "Driving errors, driving violations and accident involvement", Ergonomics, (1995) Vol.38, 1036-1048

    Perry, Mark, Kenton O'Hara, Abigail Sellen, Barry Brown & Richard Harper. "Dealing with Mobility : Understanding access anytime, anywhere." TOCHI, forthcoming

    Ryave, A.L., and Schenkein, J.N. "Notes on the art of walking." Ethnomethodology. Ed. R. Turner Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin, 1974, 265-274.

    Ryle, Gilbert. The Concept of Mind, London: Hutchinson, 1949

    Saxks, Harvey. Lectures on Conversation, Vol.s 1 & 2. Cambridge : Blackwell, 1992

    Schegloff, E.A. 'Notes on a Conversational Practice: Formulating Place' in Sudlow, D. (ed.) Studies in Social Interaction. Glencoe: Free Press 1972.

    Sudnow, D. Ways of the Hand : The Organization of Improvised Conduct. London : MIT Press, 1978

    Thrift, N. Spatial Formations. London : Sage, 1996

    Watson, D. R. "Fear and Loathing on West 42nd Street: A response to William Kornblum's Account of Times Square". Final Report 'Plan Urbain' Interaction in Public Space, (Appendix II) . Eds. J.R.E. Lee and D.R. Watson. Manchester: Manchester University, Dept. of Sociolgy, 1993. 1-26