Let me apologize in advance for offending those of you who truly believe that you can multitask successfully, especially women who claim to have an extra gene that permits this special superpower. I’m sorry for breaking into your mythical holy of holys and spray painting vulgar graffiti all over the sacred idol you worship, the one with twenty hands. let me just say this, “She had it coming.”
On my way to work the other day the woman in the black Honda Accord next to me was driving, chewing gum, smoking a cigarette, talking on her phone, and applying mascara at the same time. The man in the passenger seat, her life partner I guess, was diapering a child, playing Candy Crush, eating a burrito, and adjusting the radio simultaneously. They were both two handed humans. It was unbelievable. I looked for third arm attachments but saw none. At the next red light I looked at them in awe, as if they were an alien species that had been planted here for reconnaissance back to their mother planet. I felt inferior and inadequate as I pulled away on the green light. All I could do was drive an automatic transmission with various buttons on the steering wheel. I could chew gum and hum along with the radio. Mind you, I know these are not significant tasks, but that was my limit. Tears of self disgust began to well up in my eyes. “I suck. I am nothing. I need to buy more armaments. Why can’t I multitask like the big kids do?”
In modern times, hurry, bustle, and agitation have become a regular way of life for many people — so much so that we have embraced a word to describe our efforts to respond to the many pressing demands on our time: multitasking. Used for decades to describe the parallel processing abilities of computers, multitasking is now shorthand for the human attempt to do simultaneously as many things as possible, as quickly as possible, preferably marshalling the power of as many technologies as possible.
This next section seals the deal for me. Focus you multitaskards, you.
But more recently, challenges to the ethos of multitasking have begun to emerge. Numerous studies have shown the sometimes-fatal danger of using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving, for example, and several states have now made that particular form of multitasking illegal. In the business world, where concerns about time-management are perennial, warnings about workplace distractions spawned by a multitasking culture are on the rise. In 2005, the BBC reported on a research study, funded by Hewlett-Packard and conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, that found, “Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.” The psychologist who led the study called this new “infomania” a serious threat to workplace productivity. One of the Harvard Business Review’s “Breakthrough Ideas” for 2007 was Linda Stone’s notion of “continuous partial attention,” which might be understood as a subspecies of multitasking: using mobile computing power and the Internet, we are “constantly scanning for opportunities and staying on top of contacts, events, and activities in an effort to miss nothing.”
In short what multitaskers do is hyper task as they flit like hummingbirds on crack from one incomplete task to the next, so stoned out by the buzzing of their own wings that they hallucinate themselves into completion.
Sorry about bursting your bubble, guys. It had to be done.