Miles wide and inches deep
Yoo hoo … Hello?
Yes, I’m talking to you. Are you experiencing difficulty staying with this paragraph? Here’s a suggestion: why don’t you click off Peter Mansbridge, pull the Ipod out of your earhole, turn your cell to vibrate and ignore your e-mail for a nanosecond?
There … isn’t that better? This, believe it or not, is the way we all used to live. Peacefully, more or less. Meandering from one task to another in a linear, sequential, one foot after the other, Opie-sauntering-down-the-main-street-of-Mayberry kind of way — not trying to juggle eighteen things at once. Not driving ourselves crazy.
I’m not sure exactly when multitasking became the fashion, but it’s not working well for me and if I had my druthers I’d whisk us all back to those good old take-it-as it-comes days of yore.
Not working that well for most of us, apparently.
Multitasking bushwhacks us in dozens of less obvious ways.
For one thing, it renders us dopier than, well, dope. A study carried out by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London concluded among other things, that workers interrupted by e-mail and phone calls “suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.”
Multitasking isn’t just taking over the workplace. My folksinger friend James Gordon recently had an eerie experience. He received an invitation to perform at a coffee house in Brooklyn, New York. He showed up on the appointed date at Vox Pop, a hole-in-the-wall joint that billed itself as a community-empowering, retail-revolution, live-event-loving, infoshop. Hmm, thought my friend. But he unslung his guitar and took to the stage.
“I looked out into a sea of Mac PowerBooks,” he recalls, “each one blocking out the faces of the pale patrons. It turned out that Vox Pop really was a place for lonely, anti-social computer geeks to sit by themselves at tiny tables, drinking coffee while immersing themselves in their laptops. They seemed genuinely annoyed that there was a noisy folksinger disturbing their peace.”
Taking your laptop along as your date. When did this depressing cultural innovation raise its misanthropic head?
It would be excusable perhaps if multitasking worked.
We could forgive the intrusion if all of our frenetic simultaneous hyperactivity actually put us ahead of the game and made us more efficient and knowledgeable, but it doesn’t. We get to juggle more data, yes. But that’s all it is. The upshot? Very fast results, but also very shallow. We end up being like so many isolated Lake Eries — each of us miles wide and inches deep.
Some experts think multitasking is permanently reconfiguring our minds. A study conducted by Russell Poldrack, a psychology professor at the University of California concludes “multitasking adversely affects how you learn.”
“We have to be aware that there is a cost to the way our society is changing,” said Poldrack. “Humans are not built to work this way. We’re really built to focus.”
Doesn’t show any sign of letting up, though. Enter Twitter, a social interaction service now available to Internet uses everywhere. Twitter allows a user to keep in touch with fellow browsers moment-to-moment. The catch is, messages can be no longer than 140 characters — which leads to scintillating conversations such as:
NOT MUCH. YOU?
There’s an even newer program called Whisper which allows users to gently interrupt other users by sending a pop-up message to intrude on their screens. In case you weren’t distracted enough already.
Tennyson would not be happy in these times. He’s the guy who wrote: “There is no peace but calm.”
Not everyone would agree, of course. Someone else opined: “Mankind has grown strong through eternal struggles and it will only perish through eternal peace.”
Chap named Hitler wrote that.