These days, everyone multitasks. There is just too much to do to just be doing one thing, so you have to double and triple up. Eat breakfast while driving to work. Surf the web while working. Tweeting while going to the bathroom. Something about modern society has made the little tasks so simple that we can’t help but combine them. Not only that, but it has gotten to the point that some tasks are never done alone. It might be time to do a rundown of what does and does not warrant our full attention.
We’ll start with the stuff that has seemingly been permanently labeled a background process. The most obvious one is listening to music. There was a time when listening to music was an activity you planned. You went downtown, waited your turn, plunked a nickel in a machine, and stuck a tube in your ear. Now, listening to music is the answer to the question “What else can I do?” You actually have to go out of your way to avoid listening to music now. It is everywhere; elevators, lobbies, blasting out of passing cars. Our lives now have a mismatched soundtrack put together by a music director with a short attention span. TV is the same way. Sure, sometimes you’re watching it, but around my house growing up, it was the sort of thing that was just on in the background.
Aside from the dedicated secondary activities, there are those things that we intend to be secondary but, way too often, become the only thing we are doing. Surfing the web, for instance. If you have a desk job, you probably have thought, “While I’m waiting, let me check my email, maybe see what’s new on reddit.” This thought is usually followed some time later by the thought, “HOLY CRAP, 2PM?! WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED!?” Likewise for casual gaming. Sure, it started off as a dual activity, but right around the 15 minute mark this trip to the bathroom stopped being about poop and started being about Angry Birds. An admittedly niche one is the Roomba. Ostensibly this cute little robo-vacuum will clean the floor while you go about your busy day. If you have one, you know that for the first few weeks at least, it cleans the floor while everybody gathers around and watches it clean the floor, occasionally subjecting it to little experiments. “What happens when I put my foot in the way?” “See if it can pick up a paperclip!”
Finally we come to the extremely small subset of life’s activities that we don’t allow to overlap with anything else. Video Games, particularly intense ones or multiplayer, grab our full attention. Yeah, you can put music on if you want, but once you start missing audio cues or not hearing the chatter from your teammates, off it goes. I would like to think that masturbation is one of the unitasks, for sanitary reasons if nothing else. Plus, honestly, if you can’t even focus on THAT, it might be time to seek pharmaceutical intervention. You have got a severe attention deficit disorder. In my experience, though, the one task that, once started, must never be combined with another activity, is eating Cheetos. Cheetos are like a magical highlighter, marking anything you touched while eating them as a reminder not to do that again.
Some would say that this obsession with combining activities is a problem, that we have lost the ability to really dedicate ourselves to a task and do it correctly. I, however, embrace this change. I’m sure there was a point in our development when it was a struggle to muster up the brain power to do anything more complicated than walking. The fact we can now drive a car, talk on the phone, listen to the radio, and plan out our schedule for the morning all at the same moment is a sign of progress. Hopefully in a few more generations we’ll be able to train up our brains to keep a few dozen simultaneous threads going. As a matter of fact, I say we set a goal. We, as a species, need to stamp out the one remaining unitask that none of us can avoid. Sleep. I’m not saying we stop sleeping. I’m saying we find something useful or fun to do WHILE sleeping. Come on, people! We made it to the moon and found a way to deep fry butter. We can do this!