So we're electrified, computerized, and webified. We have eight windows open on our desktop while listening to our mp3s, working on our next project, and studying history. We are MULTITASKING and pitying the poor old folks who can only do one thing at a time.
You've been around. You've heard the analogies between computers and the human mind. Our brain is our hardware and our beliefs our software. As far as they go, the analogies are true. How does your computer do multitasking? Unless it has more than one processor or a mulitcore processor, computers multitask be focusing on one thing at a time. They just do it really, really fast, spending a few microseconds on first one task, then the next, then the next in round robin fashion.
The multitasking of the computer is an illusion. The belief that we can multitask is even more of an illusion. We have one processor, our brain, and it's a whole lot slower than a computer. It takes time to go from one task to another. Attention is like a flashlight. We aim it first at one thing, then another. We can't point it at more than one thing at a time. Sure, our senses work simultaneously. But our perceptions always stay in the background unless we pay attention to them - unless we actively point the flashlight their way.
What we are really doing when we try to multitask is several things poorly. It takes time to focus on the task at hand, time to get into the mindset that it requires. As we try to juggle more tasks, more and more time is spent on achieving focus; less and less time actually being focused. That project we were working on? It will be mediocre, at best. The music we were listening to? We won't remember what it was. Those windows we had open? We'll forget what they're for. The history we were studying? We won't remember it past tomorrow.In the process of trying to get a lot done at once, we end up getting less done, and what we do get done is of poorer quality than if we had focused on it alone.
If you still want to live with the delusion that you are multitasking, go ahead. Sometimes I fall into that trap. Then I ask myself "Do I want to be busy, or do I want to be good?" This usually wakes me up.