Hey Man Slow Down: Multitasking and Issues in Simplicity II

Two weeks back we received our weekly issue of Time Magazine; the cover instantly caught my eyes. It's a picture I almost wanted to find myself wrapped up in. The title of the article asks a pertinent question for today's technologically immersed generation, “Are Kids Too Wired For Their Own Good?” Not knowing which side of the question I'd fall on, I had to read the article.

Distractions That Make Our Days

On the one hand, I approach this question and subject as one who is admittedly a heavy user of technology; I spend most of my day at work in front of an Imac, and when I get home I have two more Macs waiting to be awoken from their sleep. On the other hand, I also approach it from a completely different perspective, as one who is a Quaker (and theologian), I find great value in simplicity, silence and friendship. I find that all of life must be saturated with sacraments and authentic/organic relationships. Within my own ideologies about technology and silence I find a tension that is difficult to deal with and yet important (at some length) to maintain. I think it is both important to use technology and enjoy its benefits, all the while finding a simplicity in life that allows for one to develop the kinds of practices that lead to peace, love and healthy relationships with others. Whether this is possible or not is the trajectory of my own questions.

The Online Multi-tasker:

Many of us, whether in our pre-teens, twenties or are a part of mysterious generation X, find ourselves online more and more everyday. We must take into account that this is no small issue, Time reports, “82% of kids are online by the seventh grade (50).” Not only does the internet provide vast amounts of untapped information and resources, but it also has presented us new ways to get work done and carry on friendships.

Time's article also approaches the issue of young people multitasking, saying that young people have learned how to multitask far better than their parent's generation; the flexibility of the young person's mind has enabled them to be even better at toggling many tasks at once.

This multitasking takes place in the frontal lobe called “Broadmann's Area 10 (52),” its here that toggling takes place. Area 10 allows us to work on multiple things, leaving one project incomplete while working on another, and then returning to those incomplete tasks. These processes really take place sequentially, but gives off the impression of multitasking (52).

Further, turning off one set of distractions (or noise), in order to focus on another is part of the whole process involved in multitasking. The article suggests that as we age, we have a more difficult time tuning out specific sets of noise, this is the part that young people especially excel at compared to adults. Of course I wonder if in the near future many of us who multitask on a regular basis will be conditioned to “tune out” or if we too will find difficulty later down in life.

Taking More Time To Do Less – Inefficiency and simplicity

There is of course a major issue that must be brought up when it comes to multitasking, and deals with the problem of inefficiency. Our culture, as formed around the values McDonald's has been built on, finds efficiency to be one of the top characteristics of any good buisness, employee, school, and even church. While I do not support the McDonalidzation of Society(see George Ritzer), I do find find a theological value in being efficient insofar as it encourages simplicity and quality of life.

Just because efficiency can lead itself to "being simple" it certainly is not an end-all-be-all value for today's world, in fact I think we have experienced many great harms while in pursuit of “being efficient.” When multitasking takes away from our simplicity and quality of life – we have step out of bounds. If I am juggling: 1) working on the bills, 2) writing an instant message, 3) surfing the internet, 4) reading a blog all the while I am 5) trying to listen to Emily tell me about her day (a normal set of tasks for me), something will get tuned out – something will be sacrificed in the name of “getting a lot done.”  Too much inefficiency then is just "spinning wheels" but too much obsession the other way can be de-humanizing and crushing to one's spiritual life.

Three things must not be forsaken in the name of being more efficient and those are relationship with others, God and self. I do of course consider blogging, IM-ing, and emailing to have the potential of fitting into these categories, that is enabling growth in these three relationships, but like most anything they can also distract from these things as well.

3. Those Neglected Things

So a question remains, what is it that's not getting done?

Time writes,

“The problem,” says Hallowell, “is what you are not doing if the electronic moment grows too large” – too large for the teenager and too large for those parents who are equally tethered to their gadgets. In that case, say Hallowell, “you are not having family dinner, you are not having conversations, you are not debating whether to go out with a boy who wants to have sex on the first date, you are not going on a family ski trip or taking time just to veg. Its not so much that the video game is going to rot your brain, its what you not doing that's going to rot your life (55).”

A theologian couldn't have said it better, Hallowell is correct – there is a difference between using something to supplement life and work, and quite another to substitute it. People have to struggle in relationships, they have to struggle to learn right from wrong, and decide what path is the best one to take, too much distraction pulls from these deeply fundamental developmental stages of life (whether spiritual or physical). We are always in danger of trading people for idols, silence for noise, and simplicity for American consumerism.  Certain parts of our life will grow cancerous if we let our lives go.  Thus we must take into account what is healthy and human, and what drives us away from personhood.   

I certainly do not think the computer will on its own take me away from personhood, I think they do pose possibilities in either enabling relationships or harming them, enabling personhood or destroying it.  Theological conversations about how we relate to God and one another through technology, and how we relate technology to the missio dei is at the forefront of conversations for the church, and if its not it certainly should be. People are finding more and more face time with the computer, this doesn't have to be a negative thing but we do need to think theologically about it.

For the next part of this series I will cover Silence and Noise.

For the first part in the series see The Speed of Life.

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7 responses to “Hey Man Slow Down: Multitasking and Issues in Simplicity II”

  1. My wife and I, having just watched a two hour block of Prison Break and 24, looked at each other and realized it was time to put in some imposed limits on our TV watching. Like the article said – it was about what we weren’t doing.

    I realized that I hadn’t sat down at the keyboard for any significant time in months and that the project I started around Christmas time had sat unchanged since then.

    What’s worse is there hadn’t been any significant moments of quiet in our house at all. I started to wonder about what that did to our daughter, who at 6 months already loves TV.

    So we’re officially on restriction and it feels great.

  2. chris, thanks for the comment – its good to hear about everyday things that people do to make space for other parts of life. Emily and I realized about 2 weeks back that we had been eating dinner in front of the TV as a normal part of our daily routine for sometime now. When we first got married we watched maybe a half hour a week, quite a change! We decided that for the rest of lent we’d eat dinner at the our dinning table and talk to each other. What a small but largely significant thing it is to turn off the TV. it is definately one way we confront the powers of our time.

  3. I am always amazed that teenagers have tv, computers, and game stations in their own rooms. I know that when it comes time for us to deal with the issue for our kids, we will never allow our kids to have that in their room.

  4. […] Relationships of Non-Localization I am a huge proponent of using the web as a tool for information and communication.  When my friend and I chatted, I had to be careful to not be “defensive??? about the meaningful relationships I’ve built using the web.  Meaningful relationships can be built over the web, telephone, letters and instant messaging programs but in a much different way then localized relationships. […]

  5. Type your comment here.
    When one is committed to silence it is helpful to share ideas about how to balance solitude with a healthy involvement in day-to- day activities. I found the suggestions in the article by Christopher Frazier extremely helpful.