Are We Really Able to Multitask?
01 Mar, 2013
by Ken Whitman, Publisher
The majority of states have, in their wisdom, determined that texting while driving isn’t in anybody’s best interests, and an increasing number also don’t allow drivers to use hand-held cell phones. But I’m not writing about iPhones or traffic accidents—I’m writing about attention.
The term multitasking was introduced by IBM back in 1965. In the computer world, if you have more than one task to do on a computer with a single microprocessor, you end up time-sharing. The processor takes turns addressing each job until they’re all done. If you have what’s called a multi-core computer with two or more central processing units, then each CPU can perform separate tasks simultaneously. That’s true multitasking.
Nature has given us amazing brains, but we were only alloted one per person. This means we can’t really multitask. Instead, we have to time-share if we’re trying to do more than one thing concurrently.
Texting and driving doesn’t work out well, but what about other things? I started noticing how much “multitasking” I was attempting in my life: reading e-mails while talking on the phone, eating dinner while watching television, thinking about things while doing something else; and embarrassingly, the list goes on.
When you get down to it, attention has its limits. If you were to give 100 percent of your attention to what you’re doing—your work, cooking a meal, gardening or having a conversation with a friend, for example—it stands to reason that you should do a better job or have a more fulfilling experience.
It really hit me when I started to try and give my full attention to whatever I was doing. That means if you’re thinking, think. But if you’re listening, don’t think, listen. If you’re doing something, don’t listen or think, do. It wasn’t easy, but I was amazed at the depth and subtlety of experience when I became a unitasker. I realized that I have been dividing my own attention in the belief that I could get more done. But what I gained in quantity, I actually lost in quality. And isn’t quality of life what we want?
You might try experimenting with this yourself. I’m trying to integrate more of one-thing-at-a-time into my life, and I’m finding it both less stressful and more fulfilling.
If you try it, I’d be interested to know what you think. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.