Multitasking Myths & Distracting Dilemmas

To keep up, we try to do more than one thing at a time. Does that work? Or, does it turn out that we are multitasking ineffectively instead of single-tasking effectively?

I remember when my life was mostly paying my attention to doing one task at a time. Still, I could easily get bored or distracted in some way. In the classroom, I would end up starring out the window. Today, it is inevitable that everyone gets distracted. A computer or smart device offers so many activities to wander off course to. Even if you don’t purposely wander, these machines will make sure you get interrupted and distracted. This is truly a serious dilemma.

As our lives get ever busier, I’ve noticed that we can certainly struggle to keep up in our human world and the Technojungle world. Few, if any, people can claim to be completely organized, in control and have everything finished. As we have learned, the baggage of this future world we now strive to live in can keep us inundated and overwhelmed with activities. 

We seem to live in a world of disorganization, incompleteness and unfinishedness—chaos (We’ll be getting to chaos a bit later). This can hold us in permanent states of anxiety and even depression. Our normal level can be the same, but to a lesser degree. We may not even realize this. 

What sorts of task struggles with the Technojungle are you experiencing in your life today? Do you believe you are organized and in control? Do you experience the chaos of disorganization, incompleteness and unfinishedness? Do you feel anxious or depressed from having too many task to do, or from distractions?

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In attempts to keep up, I find myself trying to do more than one task at the same time—I try to multitask. I’m not very good at it. Do you multitask to keep up? Are you very good at it? How do you focus and do something well when you are also doing something else? 

I often find that multitasking is really a disguise for being distracted by the Technojungle. At the slightest obstacle or feeling of being tired of doing a task, I can find my mind wandering to something else that I might rather be doing, or something else that needs to be done before I forget. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that, when I get distracted on to something else to do, one thing leads to another, and then I find I’m out of time to do the original task. 

Do you get distracted and wander from task to task, perhaps following what are often referred to as rabbit trails in the Technojungle?

Where have all the variety shows gone? Maybe they are called talk shows these days. One variety show I used to watch in the 60s and 70s was The Ed Sullivan show. There wasn’t much talking by the host, Ed, there was just one act after another. 

An act I remember well was the guy who spun plates on the top of tall skinny poles. He would get many spinning and, at some point, the initial ones would begin to lose momentum and waiver, so he would run back to the first pole and shake or wobble them to get the plate spinning again. Occasionally, one would fall and break. The guy had a long row of poles to get plates spinning on. A pretty girl would hand, or toss, him the plates. Eventually, after running back and forth and keeping the audience on edge, he would have all the poles with plates spinning on them. It was certainly stressful to watch. I couldn’t imagine what it would have been like to attempt such a task. 

Today, I think I can understand. Today, life in the Technojungle of this future time is full of plates that we are trying to keep spinning on the top of skinny poles, only we never seem to get them all up and spinning so we can feel we have accomplished our tasks. I was not promised a future life of spinning plates—quite the opposite, in fact. I don’t know where the world of the Technojungle future I was promised is. This seems like a dehumanizing dilemma.

My daughter, who was away at university at the time, texted me from her iPhone to my iPhone. Her majors were in English and Creative Writing, so she had plenty of reading and writing to do. On this day she contacted me and announced that she was in a coffee shop with her boyfriend and was “getting work done.” It flies in the face of what I was told and grew up doing, and is against the research into how people can best learn. I know, because I have studied education, training and learning. Yet, this is how young people “get work done”. The more they have going on, the better, or so it seems. How do you ‘get work done? Can you focus in a loud environment, with other people talking, or with music playing?

In my day, some teenagers could be found in their poster decorated bedroom studying with the radio or record player blaring away.

Modern Cafe from Vecteezy.com

Recently, I caught an interview with some young people where they were asked how they do their homework and studies. The interviewer began with asking how many do only their homework and no other tasks. No hands went up. Next, they were asked if they do two things at once. Still no hands. He continued with three and I think I saw someone hesitantly put their hand part way up. As I recall most claimed they did about five things at once, including their studies. The interviewer decided to find out if this is common and if there is any proof that this sort of practice resulted in lower grades in school. They managed to find a researcher who stated that the research is showing that grades are not impacted when students do more than one thing at a time when studying. I was certainly surprised to hear that. I’m sure it takes longer. I guess this is how studying is done in the Technojungle.

Would you believe this research? How many tasks or activities do you believe you can do at the same time?

I have a couple of concerns. I am still not convinced. Even if it should prove out over time that multitasking does not result in a degradation of task quality and efficiency, or that we can learn to do this well, what does this say about where our Technojungle society and we, as human beings, are heading? Have we lost the ability to focus and resist distraction? Do we not only have to do multitasking, but also multi-thinking?

There are messages, such as advertising, that are designed and meant to be consumed in an instant—to seem unobtrusive and to not disrupt our attention. We can see how much faster advertising is presented today by the Technojungle compared with a decade or two ago—particularly, when aimed at young people. 

I find that ads seem to pry their way into every possible aspect and crevasse of our lives competing for only an instant of our attention, or even in that instant, to hook us away from the task at hand. Every available space in our world is another spot for an ad. Ads seek to subtly distract my focus and attention becoming another task my mind must deal with. We are hardly aware of their affects on our Technojungle lives. 

Even if it should prove out over time that multitasking does not result in a degradation of task quality and efficiency, or that we can learn to do this well, what does this say about where our Technojungle society and we, as human beings, are heading? Have we lost the ability to focus and resist distraction? Do we not only have to do multitasking, but also multi-thinking?

As you safari, pay attention to how many times a day you are rudely interrupted by an ad that pops up into your view disengaging you from your focus as you stop to take action to deal with the ad. I say rudely because I grew up during a time when this sort of thing would have been viewed as rude.

I feel bombarded with Technojungle messages throughout my days. In book one, we looked at communications and messages, and how inundated we are with information. Doesn’t this leave you having to think about more than one thing at a time—multi-think? We also talked about wisdom and critical thinking and how we hardly have time for these time honoured human attributes. There is much truth in the comment, “Let it soak in.” What could be happening to us, or within us, by encountering so many short-lived superficial Technojungle messages and having to multi-think?

We know that large quantities of information overwhelms the mind and senses, numbs and stupefies humans and that is dehumanizing. Remember that we as humans, think we know so much about many things, and yet we seem to understand so little—particularly about who we are as human beings in the Technojungle.

I was trapped by indulging too much in the Technojungle until I learned more about who I am. Now I am writing this book and playing jazz on my almost 100 year-old cornet.

The problem is that the pandemic has put a halt on many activities, so I am not spending for more time in online Technojungle.

What if we are on the verge of an unexpected massive Technojungle paradigm shift? Away from accomplishing a series of tasks one at a time. Away from thinking ideas through and forming our own conclusions. Are we moving toward doing small snippets of tasks, flitting back a forth until tasks somehow get done? Have we moved away from a deep focus and connection with ourselves, each other, and our information and knowledge? 

I’m always reading something, in fact, I always seem to have a variety of reading on the go at the same time. There is just so much to read. I try to read a variety of sources so I get a balanced perspective. However, I feel like I’m juggling reading material. I have many sources on my computer and Technojungle devices, and also a book or two. What reading do you do? How do you manage your reading?

Since we rely more each day on technology and the Technojungle as a crutch, we may simply use computers to sift and organize our information into capsules that synthesize what we need to know. Do you think our machines are telling us what want to know,  or what we need to know? Are they telling us what we don’t know and may want to know? Are we learning what someone else, or some algorithm, wants us to know, or thinks we should know? Maybe the Technojungle will teach us while we sleep—sleep-tasking. Are we losing control of our own knowledge? It sounds sinister in some ways. 

Since machines can multitask, maybe our technology can take over and do almost everything in our lives for us, asking our participation only when required? What if all we have to do is simply enjoy life—whatever might be left for human life to be and enjoyed on task at a time? This seems like the myth and the promises of the Technojungle I grew up with as Western societies passed the midpoint of the twentieth century. We should now be entering a life of leisure. It seems rather, that what we have is the unexpected dilemma of having to bite-off more than we can chew.

The life of leisure does seem to have turned out to be a myth. As the twentieth century was entering its final couple of decades, I noticed that we seemed to be having to do more, and work harder, to pay for the technologies and the Technojungle that we had come to rely on. Back a few decades ago, all those promised technologies were supposed to make life so much easier. Have you discovered that the Technojungle creates more tasks to be done and generates more information daily than we can ever consume? Have all the organizing time saving technologies actually done that which they promised to do? Do we have less to do? If technology is supposed to help us, why do we have to do more than one thing at a time? These are other dehumanizing dilemmas. 

The Technojungle was and is still growing exponentially—like a massive garden, or jungle out of control. We have more things to do than I ever imagined in younger years. It has turned out that we can only pick small snippets of the data, information, and tasks, here and there. Perhaps these small pickings are what will make us individuals, or who we are as human beings in this Technojungle. Like careening down a track on a super fast train, we try to look out of all the windows to see the scenery. In a matter of minutes, we pass through a section of countryside and claim that we have seen the country. However, we have only seen snippets along a Technojungle track that simply does not pass through the entire country. Who is to say we have or have not seen enough? How do we know when we have finished all our tasks? How do we know how well we have done our tasks?

You can certainly spend the rest of your life on safari exploring the Technojungle. What can you imagine the Technojungle will be like in the future? How will the foliage become even more overgrown? Will this foliage cover our path of both the past and the future? Will that mean we would be lost? Has this has already happened? This is why we need our machetes of questions. We need to cut through the foliage and unpack the baggage to dissect the dehumanizing dilemmas. We might be able to reduce some of the over growth to find our way though life in the Technojungle and our human life. We need to figure out how to really enjoy life. Slow down, do one thing, one task, at a time and do it well.

What is the truth about Technojungle multitasking and even multi-thinking? What’s really happening is switching from one task, or thought, to another and back again?

Is multitasking a new phenomenon? I don’t think so, however it certainly seems to have become an ever more required necessity as we are increasingly mesmerized by the constant bombardment of Technojungle tasks and information. I watched an elderly lady eat her dinner while watching television. She would take a bite of food and then look up at the TV. That was a type of multitasking I often do. However, she was also reading a book at the same time. I began to wonder how she, from another era, came to find the need to do three things at once? I don’t know. These days, young people might also add texting and other tasks into the mix. I find it puzzling for sure.

What is the truth about Technojungle multitasking and even multi-thinking? What’s really happening is switching from one task, or thought, to another and back again? What would be a better term for what happens with multitasking and multi-thinking? I propose we call it switch-tasking and switch-thinking. A human being can truly only do one unrelated thing at a time. Do you think switching from one task to another causes any confusion in the human mind? Or is the human mind capable of dealing with multiple tasks at the same time?

I am endlessly amazed at musicians, and I am a musician, such as guitar or piano players who exhibit better co-ordination than I by being able to do one task with one hand and another task with the other hand—and then they often sing as well. Another example is an organist who has more than one keyboard, settings (called stops), and another keyboard to play with their feet. This astonishes me. It’s the wonderment of music. It takes great focus and the need to tune out all distractions. What a musician is really doing is making music, and it takes their entire mind and body. A single musician doesn’t play more than one tune at a time though.

New research is revealing that there is indeed something special about music that no other human endeavour seems to possess. Listening to music causes wonderful fireworks of brain activity in both sides of the brain. Playing music takes those fireworks to an even greater level causing explosions of brain activity, by adding other activities such as the motor skills of playing a musical instrument. Perhaps this is a reason why some people like to dance. So, not only is music a universal language that conveys messages and great feeling and emotion, it is great exercise for the brain. People who engage in musical activities are much better problem-solvers and organizers, among other enhanced skills. Music would seem to be one of the most humanizing activities we can do.

We just looked at attention in the last chapter, so how is your attention deeply impacted by multitasking or switch-tasking? Is it possible to pay a tiny bit of attention to what happens when you switch from one task to another? It takes a moment to make the switch and seems to take even longer to get switched back to the original task. It takes longer to do whatever tasks are involved. It is likely that you will make more errors. What else can go wrong with your attention when you try to do more than one thing at once?

Could there be other activities that humans could learn to do simultaneously that would help make us more human? It is difficult for me to imagine as I often struggle to do one thing well, even with complete focus and restricting all distractions. Distraction is one aspect of our life in the Technojungle that we are probably going to have to live with and learn to manage. This is heavy baggage that can dehumanize us when we least expect it. 

Even in writing this book, I have had to deal with E-mails coming in, alerts on both my computer, tablet and phone (they are synchronized so I actually get them three times at the very same time) and my wife coming into the office concerning various needs. I have been multitasking (switch-tasking), losing focus and then having to refocus, and I have certainly been distracted by the Technojungle. Whether the quality of my tasks and work has suffered or not, the distractions and disruptions have increased the time I take to accomplish a task.

Make no bones about it, isn’t the Technojungle out to distract you from what is really important for you to be doing? You need to be on guard. Look, see and ask—am I being distracted? Am I just busy and not getting any tasks done, or done well? Is this the best thing for me to be doing? Is this the best way for me to be doing it? Is this the best time to be doing it? Watch out for the Technojungle, it is like a little kid pestering you for more.

We may be able to one day in the future find a way to settle down and do one task at a time and do it well. Could we one day learn to instantly focus and enter into a deep connection and interaction with a particular task at hand, or the person we are with? Distractions seem to be inevitable and might just make this impossible. We may have to live with speeding through the Technojungle.

Watch out for the Technojungle, it is like a little kid pestering you for more.

People claim that they can multitask and still do each task well. I am not convinced, are you? As I said, I am trying, but, I’m not up to doing five things at once and I don’t even think I will get there, nor do I want to. I have managed, though, to get this chapter done. That is very humanizing.

What do you think? Do you multitask? How, and how often, are you distracted? How do you get work done? What are the implications to our humanity if we don’t slow down and take control of the dizzying array of tasks that bombard our lives in the Technojungle?

Remember, we are learning to redeem and reclaim that which we may have lost, retain and maintain what we have today, and to protect our humanness and humanity for our future as we learn about being better human beings and living in a world of technology—the Technojungle.

With multi-tasking a myth and distraction an inevitable aspect of life in the Technojungle, have we come to the end of our ability, or need, to focus? Perhaps we can’t stop trying to split our attention into tiny pieces. What if we have a new habits or addictions?


1 Comment

  1. Today, life in the Technojungle of this future time is full of plates that we are trying to keep spinning on the top of skinny poles, only we never seem to get them all up and spinning so we can feel we have accomplished our tasks. I was not promised a future life of spinning plates—quite the opposite, in fact. I don’t know where the world of the Technojungle future I was promised is. (Ed: good image)

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