Thursday, January 29, 2009

Excellence in multi-tasking a Must

Right now I am doing all of the following:
Singing along to my iPod (on shuffle; Stone Temple Pilots playing at the moment)
Chatting with a former student
Searching craigslist
Emailing resumes
Writing this post

Since this is not an unusual occurrence for me, I was immediately interested when a friend posted this Atlantic Monthly article on facebook: The Autumn of the Multitaskers.
I clicked it open in a new tab but never got around to reading it.

The next day, I returned to facebook and once again opened it in a new tab. I read the first few paragraphs and then got distracted by something else.

Several hours later, I finally went back to the article to actually read the thing. Before I finished the first page, I checked my email and then my stat counter.

Is this irony or just an example of how spot-on the author is?

The real irony is the titular phrase, which is almost every single job posting. (Have I mentioned lately that I'm unemployed? Sending out dozens of resumes a day is a little exhausting and quickly loses appeal.) My resume, in its various incarnations over the years, has always featured a related phrase.

Because really, think about any job you've had. Multi-tasking truly is a must! In an office, you've got phones, faxes, mailings, computer stuff going on all at once. In a classroom, you've got to physically watch all of the children, move about the room, distribute materials, write on a board or overhead, keep track of participation or behavior points (if you're like me), and keep an eye on the clock to check your pacing. Phew!

I know I'm not alone in watching tv, being online, and eating all at the same time. I can't read while the tv is on, but I can't read without music. Same with homework/work stuff. I maintain that my surface brain (yes, that's the technical term :D) is distracted by the music so the deeper part of my brain can concentrate on the task, because I notice eventually that I have no idea what's playing or what I've been hearing.

The author says that this is a bad thing, that when two things are happening at once, the capability or success of both is compromised. Yikes! Is this why I have such a hard time remembering things? I can read almost an entire magazine like Smithsonian or National Geographic in one sitting (if there are no other options, like being on a long subway ride, and as long as I have music to listen to), but can't necessarily quote from the articles later. I wonder if it's because I have a shitty memory or if it's just information overload, and that many facts can't possibly stick into one little brain.

(Also, take that, Google is making us stupid!)

I jotted down a couple phrases that jumped out at me. First, that multitasking "eats up time in the name of saving time." Whoa, that's kind of mindblowing, isn't it? It's totally true. Especially on the computer, where it's so easy and we're so used to tabbing back and forth between programs and pages. For example, I'll take a few minutes and do some hard-core emailing of job listings to myself. Then I'll go check flickr or my email or read a blog or something, and then from there do more, leaving those listings languishing in my inbox instead of instantly applying for them.

Especially now that I have nothing to do, with many things to do on my list, nothing gets done. I guess I do need some structure, because with yesterday as proof, I can easily sleep half the day away and then do absolutely nothing for the next twelve hours. Scary. I knew it was 'wrong,' but I just couldn't be arsed to do anything about it. (Now, to give myself a little credit, last night as I was going to bed I created a mental list and when I got up twelve hours later, got right (ish) to work. Now, six hours later, more than half the tasks are accomplished. More, if I added things like "apply for more jobs" and "go to the bank." Which I'm almost tempted to do, just for the satisfaction of crossing it off the list.

Another idea from the article that made me think was the "array of subtly different personas that each [electronic life] encourages." That is so true! Here I am at the same time being three different people: Ms. on AIM with a former student, who asks about school and tries not to share too much personal stuff; the Job Applicant, with lots of professional experience and dearly wants to be hired; and J, who's shooting the shit on a blog, probably oversharing and blathering nonsensically. All of them are parts of me, but the different applications require different personalities. I think that's something we take for granted, especially in my generation. We grew up without the internet and so we do know what real life is like and the boundaries therein. The kids nowadays (with their loud music and always playing on my lawn) don't have as much concept of things like sitting in a car for hours with no tv, no ipod, no video games, and they want to share too much and too fast with other people online. The author of the article quotes a high-school student in a study saying, "I get bored if it’s not all going at once." I do worry about them. What kind of future citizens are we breeding by shoving technology down their throats, by not giving them boundaries, by not giving them critical feedback and structure, by not teaching them how to read or write?

Truly, are we "an audience whose brains are already half dormant from the stress of" doing so many things?

1 comment:

Matt said...

Apparently I'm multitasking too much, cause I can't compose a coherent thought. Oh well. Hi!!!!