Multitasking is dead!
Back in the day, mothers were the universal example of multitasking. No one could beat handling everything from small children to family nutrition, taxes and household expenses to a leaky pipe and consoling teens, hubbies, and their own aging parents.
Farmers come a close second, from hydraulic mechanics to plant nutritionists, breeding technicians to roof repairs. The local car mechanic multitasked through a wasteful list of the-same-but-different-automobiles, door locks and electrical problems to “a clunk in the front end”.
Multitasking was even more widespread than we remember, partially because so much of our lives were about recycling and re-using, not buying-new, and recycling is a kind of multi-tasking. We have since become Consumers, the world’s unifying ideology. There’s little multitasking needed to toss something in the trash and buy a new one, multi-wrapped in plastic.
As life grew more complex, and time contracted to ever-smaller quantities, multitasking grabbed our attention. There was no alternative – apart from those few cowards who opted for a life of Zen simplicity. Thoreau’s Zen-like lifestyle requires too much thinking for our comfort.
Along came social media and the radio-wave flood. Devices implanted into our fists kept us constantly entertained and fascinated with the trivialities of modern living. Leaders morphed into entertainers and every “entertainer” was on YouTube. In this era of passive watching, who has time to read? We wonder if reading skills are even needed. Newspapers became the dinosaurs of our day, brightly coloured, gigantic, complex, bringing down whole governments and propping up others.
Now hand-implants allow us remarkable multitasking capacities. We can eat a romantic dinner by candlelight – while checking hockey scores or reading comments from an ex-girlfriend; we can drive and text – and even crash before we know the end of the funny story we had been following. Employees can multi-view on their work screens, and managers can golf and stay current with traffic volumes and their kids. Many people, especially teens, can sleep and watch their favourite nothings at the same time – or so they claim.
But like all good things (not all bad things, unfortunately), everything comes to an end. The eras of multitasking, from the old days of hanging up the wash while chatting to the neighbour, have evolved – or been revolutionized, if we believe commercial hype – to the point where there is now no such thing as “focus”. No one takes a walk in the snow to ponder a single question any more. Everyone, we are sure, is multitasking. So, if no one is doing this, if multi-tasking is the only thing we can do, then multi-tasking becomes ordinary behaviour; it’s nothing distinct or separate in itself. It’s merely what we do, must do, want to do, can’t help doing ... it’s normal, not special. It doesn’t even deserve a name. There is no focus beyond an instant, or hardly.
Multitasking is dead! Long live multitasking!