Gone are my days when I could be talking to my mother on the phone while snapping my fingers at my husband to draw his attention to a tool he’d been looking for while at the same time emptying the dishwasher and using my leg to shut the fridge door left open by a three year old. Gone are my champion multitasking days. The truth is, I am terrible at multitasking. Yet, it seems to be the norm in offices where people are often required to keep chat rooms open, surf the web, and respond to e-mail within 15 minutes. It seems to be common in sports arenas where fans in mega-buck seasonal seats actually watch the game on big-screen TVs and text friends and post photos on Instagram and Facebook, tweet the scores and send out selfies. It seems to be the norm in college classrooms where professors’ lectures compete with web search engines and social networking sites on laptops while “passing notes” through text messaging. Multitasking is the new social norm. It is part of this world in which people talk separately on cell phones while walking together side by side. It is part of this world where I hear the click of a friend’s keyboard while talking on the phone, and where two people who seem to be holding a serious conversation while one is surfing the Internet.
I am delighted to find a report by the late professor of communication at Stanford, Dr. Clifford Nass, who spent more than 25 years studying people as they confronted the constantly changing technology of the computer age. According to his study, people who multitasked less frequently were actually better at it than those who did it frequently. He argued that heavy multitasking shortened attention spans and the ability to concentrate; in other words, easily distracted. Even this, however, puts me at the low end of the multitasking scale since I am not Facebooking while surfing the Net, downloading iTunes and driving. Worse yet, my inability to simultaneously YouTube and IM and listen to voice mail makes me a technological dinosaur.
Today, I am challenged by one task at a time. I sit in front of my computer to write my blog and while I’m hashing out the words, I hear my cellphone buzz with a text message. It’s my daughter requesting a reply to one of her life’s questions. I drop everything and seek to find a well-informed answer through the various search engines on the web. As I search for a satisfactorily relevant answer, I am distracted by other information that appears on the page and which is of interest to me. I delve further into the topic of my interest, leaving behind my daughter’s quest for later. I become engrossed in the subject until a message on the computer screen pops up to say a friend posted a reply to a comment I had made on Facebook. She’s the person I was hoping to reach through LinkedIn earlier this morning. I go to FB, check her reply, click a ‘like’ to her response and catch up on everybody else’s news. Someone’s become a grandparent, another just returned from vacation while another just ate a great meal with a picture to prove it. Someone types Amen, another asks for likes to combat animal cruelty while another shares a post claiming it is the funniest thing you’ll ever read. My home phone rings. I take the call in my bedroom. I chat for a bit while tidying the room. I hang up the phone. I look out the window to my back yard and notice the dry leaves on my patio. I decide to go out into the yard and rake the leaves and as I am doing so I am met by the hummingbird that whirrs and hums her rapid wingbeats next to me in midair. She flies to her two chicks hatched in the nest she has built on the strings of the chime hanging from the eave above my patio. I marvel at the beauty of a tiny avian feeding her babies. The thought of the hummingbird feeding her chicks reminds me that I need to go grocery shopping, and I step into the kitchen to take inventory of needed items for today’s dinner. While making my list I notice the daily paper. A headline catches my attention. I’ll read it later since I’m headed out the door. The mailman drives up. I wave. I might as well bring in the mail. My bank statement has arrived. I return indoors to verify the transactions and balance the books using my on-line banking skills. My phone bings. I’ve received an IM from siblings on WhatsApp asking about my well-being and to join the conversation. About to answer, I hear a couple of chimes. Emails are coming in. I’ll explain to my siblings as soon as I answer these emails. …
Now then where was I? Multitasking.