Sunday, May 17, 2009


I drove my daughter to a birthday party yesterday, just a few meandering roadways away, here in our lovely gated community. No, I’m not a snob, and I’m not one of those who run around calling this place a gated community, either. Oh, sure, there’s a gate out front, but that’s all. No walls, just a gate. And it’s one of those candy-striped wooden things you see at train tracks and it’s always broken because some impatient idiot is always driving through it. I imagine that from a plane overhead our little “community” looks like a Lionel train layout. Though how much of a “community” you can call a place where everybody seems to hate everyone else, despite having no end of interest in what they’re doing behind closed doors -- much of which seems to be facilitated by emails exchanged on a sex dating site -- is another question entirely.

Anyway, I’m driving from Harbor Key to Spinnaker Court and getting lost on Topsail Lane…

(And, of course, I’m wondering, What’s with all the nautical affectations, anyway? This isn’t Cape Cod; we’re on the goddamned Hackensack River, for Chrissake. The Hackensack River -- where sea gulls go to die. Just downstream from an abandoned oil refinery, by the way. I don’t use soap in the shower; I use a degreaser. I’d call this place Love Canal South, except it’s in Jersey, so the word “love” would have to be replaced by a word you won’t hear on The Disney Channel.)

Of course I’m just kidding. It’s a lovely place to live, as my wife, the realtor, reminds me while jabbing me in the shoulder with the sharp edge of a spackling tool. Not that there’s any risk in not making that clear, not even if I leave this post in the archives forever. In this economy, we’re never gonna sell this house and get out of living in the middle of a “Sopranos” location anyway. But I digress.

The main reason I’m getting lost is that I keep having to turn down narrow alleys between the townhouses to avoid some dimwit who’s walking three huge dogs while talking to one person and texting another simultaneously, all while watching a viral video on his iPhone. He’s so intent on what’s coming through his ear buds to give him brain cancer that he doesn’t notice that one of the dogs has stopped in the middle of the roadway to relieve himself. But the thing is on a leash that looks more like a bungee cord, and if I don’t turn away, I’m gonna have to watch this fool be snapped back into an unusually tall pile of dog feces, which I assume won't be good for his iPhone. Not that I harbor any hostility toward the man; I realize he’s not really a dick, he’s just multitasking.

“Multitasking.” I love that word. I’m sure you’re familiar with it: it’s in Bartlett’s Quotations where “A thing worth doing is worth doing well” used to be.

All it is, is a piss-elegant neologism to help you rationalize doing more half-assed stuff more half-assedly than you did before you got the technology that now encourages you to aspire to the physically impossible. You know, the digital magical thinking machines that want to convince you that all you need in order to write well is a spell-checker, and it doesn’t matter whether you know the difference between “here” and “hear” because the magical thinking machine doesn’t know, either.

At its best, “multitasking” is counterintuitive; at its worst, it’s Orwellian. A Big Brotherish kind of Newspeak coined to normalize, if not glorify, being too impatient to finish anything completely, accurately, or correctly. Multitasking as a work ethic is not, in fact, what has made us prosperous, as might be suggested by the crumbling of once-bedrock financial institutions. And, come to think of it, by one other niggling detail: the fact that most of the country is not, in fact, prosperous.

Multitasking is, instead, what causes bridges to collapse; consumer products to be recalled; errors to be made on your credit card, loan repayment, and utility bills; and the reason service calls never show up on time after you’ve spent two hours on hold waiting to place them, because there are only three people fielding over 100,000 calls a day, all of whom have been hired because they know just enough English to say “I’m good at multitasking” in a job interview.

Personally, I believe multitasking is a myth. In my ->aHEM<- copious spare time I’m working on a book called just that: The Myth of Multitasking. I want to be to the art of sustained concentration on a single goal what Gavin de Becker is to fear: the guy who argues that it not only has a purpose and a practical application, but that it can actually be good for you.

And that’s why I’m going away now, when I’m supposed to be writing a book instead of doing this. It has nothing to do with the idea that Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest because God supposedly rested on the seventh day.

(And if you don’t know from comic book continuity, you can stop reading here because the rest of this won’t make any sense to you anyway.)

It’s because God may have rested after six days, but apparently Orion, Highfather, The Source, The Presence, and the Schechina like to go for the overtime. So, no, it’s got nothing to do with the seventh day of the week. It’s because I’m no damned good at multitasking.


B.risbois said...

So -- What IS going on behind closed doors in your gated community?

Multitasking said...

Excellent article, I do agree that multitasking is a "Myth", and here is a version of my book The Myth of multitasking.

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