MultiTASKED out

Originally uploaded by ptpenguino.
The Atlantic just celebrated its 150th anniversary issue and I’d been waiting to see what all these great people on the front cover wrote. Ironically, it was an article, by Walter Kirn, on The Autumn of Multitasking that caught my eye.

You must give the piece a go. Not only was it humorously written, it gives a great head check to our current urgency-driven culture. The core theme deals with the now provable fact that in multitasking the brain simply cannot retain information, thus is incapable of learning what is at hand. Do too many things at once and they fly in one ear and out the other. Something I am sure we can all attest to in our personal experience.

Apparently, Harvard has a study that estimates that “2,600 deaths and 330,000 injuries may be caused by drivers on cell phones each year.” And it reminded me of a moment years ago in high school when my girlfriend was talking to her dad on his car phone (that big black boxy deal that only the rich used before there were iPhones). During the conversation, the side I heard, she changed her tone and then hung up, turned to me and said, “my dad just got in a car accident.” He ended up in a five-car bumper collision, nothing dangerous, and he was in the middle – so not really his fault. This was 16 years ago. Since then I’ve had numerous friends lose someone to a mobile phone related accident, killed by another driver who was too busy doing too much.

A most depressing picture repeated at any stoplight. I glance over at the car next to me to see two friends in a car both talking to other people on their cell phones. Missed moments that they will never get back. And how much do they learn about the person next to them? About themselves?

Kirn goes on to discuss the marketing aspects, the way we’ve been lulled into buying the false reality that we MUST do more things, with more gadgets, so we will have time to “enjoy” our lives. What the Joe America doesn’t think about while he multi-tasks on his crackberrry or iPhone is the habits he creates by living this way don’t allow for him to enjoy moments of rest. Just watch any business guy at “happy” hour and you will see what I mean. Sitting down and enjoying a pint with friends is now attached with Bluetooth headsets, email, and text-messages. Is it possible that all the kids diagnosed with A.D.D. are nothing more than babies that grew up in a culture that made them that way, in a family where mom and dad are hardly present even when the are right in front of their eyes?

Back when I worked in “full-time ministry” (isn’t it all full time, folks?) I was caught up with owning a PDA. It was a graduate step from the Daytimer that some older person told me in college was a must have to stay ahead of the game (What game is that I wonder?.) I still had the PDA until a few years back when I realized all I ever used it for was playing games on airplanes. I sold it on eBay when the dust was finally so thick I mistook it for a mouse under my desk. I haven’t missed it. In fact, I am actually more aware of how much I am engaged in the present without it. I do what is before me and move on to the next thing. What’s left undone, well, is undone. God didn’t arrive to the Sabbath with everything finished, why should I live any differently?

Reading the article has made me take a look back at over the recent past and notice something: my life is quieter, more focused, less distracted. I just don’t multitask at the level I used to. Not having a TV probably helps, because I don’t feel the need to buy or do whatever it tells me I should. I might have tons of music in my iTunes but I am not even listening to it right now as I write. My world is loud enough without it. I had come to an epiphanl understanding that I don’t like the multitasking version of me.

An interesting aspect of multitasking is that the quality of work diminishes with the more things being done at once. I am sure there is or will be some statistical data soon enough showing that our culture has cost us enormous sums of money for the sake of “getting more done.” How many important things are missed in an average day at the office because more is better? How many task were repeated because the people doing them never learned the first time, because they were too busy doing other things at the same time? How many clients have been made to feel less human because the person across the table was text-messaging during a meeting? And this is just business as usual. Drop these same questions into a family, into relationships that are supposed to matter.

If multitasking has entered its Autumn, then I can only guess that winter is around the corner. It may be another five years, but imagine what it could be like when computers stop convincing us we need them, or need to be like them all the time? Maybe as we remember how human we are, we will set the gadgets and noise aside for a moment to actually hear what our humanity is saying.
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