There is no end to what we will say to allow ourselves to feel better about things that we should not feel better about. Large men will rub their beer bellies and claim that women find it “sexy.” Sometimes they will say they’re not heavy, they’re “big boned,” which isn’t possible. Overweight women will convince others that they’re happier that way, but I suspect they’re not. Those beer-bellied men also say that the belly gives them “character.” Yes, if that character is “Wimpy” from the old Popeye cartoons. I won’t pick on bald men because nobody chooses to be bald. You can choose to gain weight, but you can’t choose to gain hair. Well, not naturally. We’ve also become blissfully ignorant, sometimes pretending to enjoy being unaware of things in order to avoid any responsibility. However, one claim that particularly bothers me is what we are doing for which we have adopted the term “multi-tasking.”
We are bored, and we have been bored a long time. It starts in daycare when they packed us in a room full of toys with a big television in the corner with Barney and Sesame Street playing all day. It got worse in elementary school when inflation forced both parents to work, leaving us home alone for a few hours after school. If you didn’t have both parents, then you were already alone and bored. It got worse in high school when more teachers learned that it was easier to give us pages to read and questions to answer instead of engaging us in conversation. As video games grew in capability, graphics, and popularity, we ourselves became boring because we choose more often to sit home and play instead of playing after school sports. Real sports are a little tougher to play because they do not have a “reset” button. Once we reached the workplace, we sealed the boredom deal when they stuffed us in cubicles, which functioned much like blinders on a horse.
When we are given a task at work, it doesn’t take long for us to become disinterested, looking for something else. It seems we’re always searching for that “reset” button. Because of our general inability to commit to anything, many of us do not even last a full year at one job before moving on to another one. Those who do last might only do so because we could not find something or somewhere else to which to jump, thanks to record unemployment. Sometimes we do not last long at a job not by choice but by management’s choice to get rid of the slackers. Some of us, however, have figured out how to make it appear that we are actually working when in reality we are not. This is what we now call “multi-tasking” (MT), and it goes something like this:
You’re given task B, which might normally take you five total hours to complete. During the first hour you stop to check e-mail, send a few “tweets,” and post the first line of your favorite song on Facebook after you leave some comments on your sister’s Disney vacation photos, something about getting sick on Tower of Terror. Later in that first hour, you remember that you still haven’t finished task A that you were given the day before. So B goes on hold while you take a few minutes to remind yourself on what task A was all about. You find notes, double check a few numbers, and slowly get up to speed. You then put in a solid fifteen minutes before you stand up to stretch, lose your train of thought, and drift back to task B again.
Your first 60 minutes of task B turns out to be only about 30 productive minutes. In the next hour of task A or B, those 30 productive minutes will decrease further because you’re going to touch base with a co-worker and coffee. What will seem like collaboration is really only procrastination, and it will get worse after lunch when task C comes across your desk.
Each transition from task to task requires about two minutes to check e-mail, refill coffee, or say “hi” to someone else. It also requires two minutes to refamiliarize yourself with one of the other tasks in order to slowly catch up to the point you were out when you bailed the last time. When your boss asks why tasks A and B aren’t finished yet, you tell him they’re both in progress but not yet complete because you’re “multi-tasking.” Feel better? Of course, because you’re not multi-tasking. You’re just jumping back and forth between three different things while giving less attention and taking more time to do so.
Before I even started writing this, I had already heard from two people who insist that they multi-task regularly with examples such as driving a stick shift, smoking, and talking on the phone. That is not multi-tasking. That is doing two mechanical motions while speaking. Multi-tasking requires pensive focus activities such as reading or writing. It’s not multi-tasking if I’m riding a bike, breathing, and blinking.
If there was such a thing as multi-tasking, women would definitely be better at it than men. Actually, I’m sure they all believe they can do it because I’ve seen women talk on the phone, watch television, and bake lasagna at the same time. In females, there are two connections, two pathways that connect the right and left hemispheres of their brains. Men only have one connection, leaving us only half as good at efficiently moving information back and forth as we do things. So while women would easily talk to their mothers, watch General Hospital, and bake lasagna, men would probably end up in General Hospital after eating chemicals from the battery of the cell phone that we accidentally dropped in the lasagna.