Monday, August 20 , 2018, 8:18 pm | Partly Cloudy with Haze 67º


Paul Burri: Multitasking — Then and Now

Just because you can do it all, doesn't really mean you can, or that you should try

A recent newspaper article included a picture of a young high school student who was working on her math homework while texting on her phone, posting to Facebook, monitoring her e-mail and listening to the Beatles.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

How awesome! How unbelievable!

I have always prided myself on being able to multitask. I started as a young man by learning to breathe and chew gum at the same time — an ability that a few of our recent and current politicians are still working on. From those simple multitasks I have progressed to the point where one morning recently I realized I was boiling water for my breakfast egg, making toast, drinking coffee, reading the paper and shaving (using my electric razor) — all at the same time. Wow! Talk about multitasking!

Admittedly, toasting the bagel and boiling the water were relatively simple automatic tasks that didn’t require my immediate attention and didn’t come near to requiring the concentration of doing math homework and texting on my phone at the same time, but I’m an old man and my skills, manual dexterity and mental acuity are certainly not what they were when I was in high school. But I can’t help wondering whether that young high school student will be able to match my still-remaining math skills — the ones I was forced to learn without the added “study benefits” of Facebook, texting or e-mail. Come to think of it, I remember my parents yelling at me to turn off the radio while I was doing my homework. How cruel of them; how little understanding they had.

But I think I now understand why the young clerk at the hardware store needs to use a pocket calculator to figure out what change I am supposed to get when I hand her $2 for a $1.56 purchase. Or why the cash register at McDonald’s only shows pictures of hamburgers, fries and soft drinks instead of prices. Or why, when asked by Jay Leno how many stars there are in an American flag flying nearby, one young woman answered, “I don’t know. It’s blowing too hard for me to count them.” Or another one who, when asked who wrote Handel’s “Messiah” answered, “I don’t read books.” (Remember: These people vote!) And the saddest thing is that young lady can’t understand my impatience about her not being able to subtract 156 from 200 in her head. (That’s probably because she is too busy vacuously listening to some acid rock through the ear buds from the iPod hanging from her neck to even notice that I am being impatient.)

Another article I read recently spoke about the newest generation being much better at multitasking than any other generation in history. Frankly, I doubt it. What the article neglected to concern itself with was the quality of the work performed by these multitasking “wizards.” I would be willing to place a long-odds bet that it is far below reasonable expectations.

But that’s just me — a cranky old guy.

Footnote: A more recent newspaper article headlined “Study finds multitaskers can’t separate the wheat from the chaff” cites a Stanford University study that confirms my opinion about the quality of work produced by these multitaskers.

I rest my case.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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