Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Multitasking Revealed

Turns out that multitasking is not the boon to efficiency its practitioners would have us believe. Nope. It's not the key to getting more done. In fact, multitasking slows you down and increases the likelihood that you will make a mistake.

That means that multitasking is itself a mistake. If you elect to multitask, you are making a mistake right out of the gate. Who knew? Shouldn't someone be sending out memos declaring multitasking to be a violation of company policy? Should I go to training on how to reduce or prevent multitasking? I don't even know what to call a person who is guilty of multitasking.

I guess whether or not multitasking is bad depends to some extent on how you define it. According to one definition, multitasking is the concurrent operation by one Central Processing Unit of two or more processes. I like this definition because I like to think of myself as a CPU. That way, I can blame any problems on an overfull or faulty hard drive.

There is multitasking all around me. Every morning I see drivers simultaneously applying make-up, talking on the cell phone and eating breakfast. The mistake you're most like to see here? No turn signals. Apparently, getting the eyeliner on straight is more important than signaling your intentions in rush hour traffic.

Campus is awash with multitasking. In classroom after classroom, students follow along with the lecture while texting friends, maintaining Facebook pages, playing Tetris on cell phones, reading the campus newspaper, and/or sleeping. Two of every three students you pass on campus will be on the cell phone, reading something on a phone or blackberry, or texting a response to something they just read. They walk slower than everybody else and are always apologizing for running in to things. I suppose they are less of a menace on foot than behind the wheel of a car.

Multitasking rules at the workplace, too. Most people you see on Facebook at any give time (excluding students), are at work. The blogosphere comes to a screeching halt Friday afternoon, with few if any new posts appearing until bloggers return to their day jobs on Monday. Most of the participants in any meeting I attend these days are busy doing something else. Multitasking rules!

Multitasking is what we do so we won't feel like we're wasting time on whatever it is we're supposed to be doing. Talking on the phone, enjoying a bacon-egg-and-cheese biscuit, and putting the finishing touches on today's face beat listening to traffic reports on the radio. The time passes more quickly, too.

In the end that's what it's really about. God forbid we should be bored for even one little minute. Nope. We live in the era of constant entertainment. But I guess that would depend entirely on how you define entertainment.

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