Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The perils of multi-tasking

The other day while I was browsing the web, dialed in to a conference call, watching the hockey game and cleaning my oven, I had this thought: I wondered if I'd be deriving a greater benefit from some (if not all) of these experiences, if I was doing fewer things all at once. Now I know you're saying to yourself: This guy doesn't have a self-cleaning oven? But let's not miss the point here - people these days are just trying to do too many things at once (particularly while they're operating a motor vehicle).

A large portion of the populace seems convinced that multi-tasking is, by definition, a good thing. But I am not convinced. Although my schedule is (totally) out of control, I do not plan to do multiple things at once. I may be forced to that extreme on occasion - and I like listening to a sporting event while I eat or do some work on my PC as much as anybody - but there are many activities that I feel should receive a person's undivided attention.

For example:

1. Driving is an endeavor that should never be paired with any other activity that requires the use of body parts other than the mouth or ears. There are rare exceptions (I will occasionally eat in the car on a long road trip) - but the application of makeup, composition of text messages and dialing of a phone (without benefit of hands-free technology) are all serious violations of this rule.

2. While reading or watching a movie can (generally) be paired with other activities without presenting any significant safety hazard (unless paired with operation of a motor vehicle or heavy machinery; see Rule #1 above) - why would you want to do such a thing? To really savor a book or film, I think you need to immerse yourself in it - and that's tough to do while you're talking on the phone, paying the bills or even doing the laundry. [Note: If you are re-reading a story or watching a movie you've seen many times, these rules may not necessarily apply.]

3. Televisions do not deserve the same amount of attention as people. So if you are entertaining (or even have unexpected guests) and you have not gathered for the expressed purpose of watching TV - turn off the tube. Unless I'm eating by myself (or am in the presence of others who desire to watch with me), I would never turn on a television during a meal. I get frustrated with myself when I am in a restaurant that has lots of TVs - and can't stop myself from getting distracted by a program (sports mostly - or one of those swimsuit model specials) instead of having some conversation with my companions. It's just a bad habit - and poor manners, as well.

Don't worry - I feel this rant coming to a close. I hope I haven't done a disservice to this topic in my (hopefully) humorous approach. I do think that we have "over-valued" multi-tasking - taking a concept that may work well for machines and attempting to apply it to human endeavors, where it can be poorly suited. Do we see the repercussions in different ways - shortening attention spans, emphasis on speed and quantity over precision and quality, the overthrow of small Latin American countries by the foot-soldiers of a clandestine shadow government? (Just wanted to see if anyone was still paying attention.)

Ask yourself one last question: If you want to improve - if you want to get really good at doing something - do you focus on that one thing and expend your energy and attention in that pursuit? Or do you try to do several things all at once?

Me? I'll put it this way.
I don't think those Cosmo cover girls are putting their makeup on in the car.

Take care.

Hey Spartans - thanks for the ride. It was fun. Congratulations on a fantastic season.


Anonymous said...

The Cosmo cover girls are having Jean-Claude put their make-up on them in the car. And, really, honey, "cleaning your oven?" Is that the newest euphemism? Save a chicken?

Sara said...

Most television doesn't deserve the same respect, but if someone shows up while I'm watching House, and expects me to turn off the tv?

We'd have issues. Just saying. ;)

Jim Styro said...

MAW: My point exactly - we are all safer when those girls are not behind the wheel. But you've got that other thing wrong. "Cleaning the oven" is what I do to you.

[Sorry, everybody - but she started it.]

Sara: So you're saying some TV shows are more important than people? I can live with that if you can.