They say we’re getting better at multitasking, that being raised on modern technology teachers us to look in many directions at once, perform many tasks simultaneously. Is it really possible to do two things at once, or are we instead performing some hybrid task, some misshapen mutant that bears traits of its forebears but fails at becoming them?

They also say you can split an earthworm in half and it will become two separate living wriggling earthworms. This is a lie. It becomes a dead earthworm or, at best, a single, living, whole-if-somewhat-traumatized, earthworm.

We may be getting better at tasks that require multiple discrete input streams, but that isn’t the same as multiple tasks. We cannot be in two places at once. We cannot split ourselves in half and become two separate people. We also can’t help but try, again and again. Voldemort, splitting his soul apart into pieces so he could hide them for safekeeping, the king of modern multitasking.

The problem with telling yourself you’re good at something is that then you get frustrated when you fail at it. The problem with telling yourself you like something is that you’re confused when you can’t enjoy it. The problem with telling yourself who you are is that when you no longer want live that life, you won’t know who to be any more.

Even the most trivial tasks cost a terrible toll to our focus. Every additional thing we need to do makes it harder to get anything done, and that weight stacks up, accumulates by exponents, until we can do nothing for the weight of all the things we have to do afterwards. This is why they say to ‘live in the moment,’ advice of approximately the same usefulness as ‘have you tried not having cancer?’ This is why they also say you’re lazy, because you’re paralyzed by uncertainty when you look at one event that is a link in a chain, a thread in a sheet, a drop in an ocean, and trying in futility to understand how it connects to everything else.

Keep count. See how many things you can really do at once before you waver. It’s hard to keep track, there’s no brain space left over to analyze the meta-data, the metrics, the A/B end user experience test. The part of the brain that oversees and ensures you are doing a good job is busy. The part of the brain that mulls over difficult problems at leisure is also busy. The part of the brain that used to hold dreams and aspirations has been converted into a storage space for old McDonalds Star Wars toys and surplus copies of the ET video game retrieved from a landfill. One hand holding the beer, one hand holding the phone, one hand holding the steering wheel: We’re too busy for this shit. Move on.

Any time now, I’ll be done, and the silence will start, and I can hear myself think again. I just need to work a bit harder. I just need to do more.

I wish there were some alternative, but I can’t look up long enough to check.

  1. Oh my, yes. I feel so overwhelmed sometimes with all the threads I’m trying to tug on at the same time. I try let some go sometimes and float away as I try to tug the most important ones in.

  2. I believe multitasking is a myth and your description of multitasking as a misshapen mutant is absolutely perfect. I agree we need to learn to focus on one thing at a time. Busy is not always better.

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