Friday, December 07, 2007

Taking 'Multi-tasking' to task

When IBM introduced the first Personal Computer (PC) back in 1981, it was a single-tasking machine. It came with a single sided floppy disk drive, a single expansion board, a single hard-disk drive and of course a single Central Processing Unit. More than 25 years later, the personal computer has become a multi-tasking system, having motherboard with multiple functions. Having more than one hard-drive, dual core CPU, multiple slots for different expansion cards of different types. Some even have dual video monitors in order to 'enhance productivity'.

In 25 years, we have migrated from a simple single tasked machine to a mammoth multi-tasking capable computer both hardware and software. In the hardware zone, more devices can plug and play. In the software arena, more applications can be opened within the same operating system. With the age of virtualization, we can have more than one operating system running simultaneously in one machine! Here is the logic. If machines can be made to be multi-tasking, and if humans made these devices, then obviously, human beings can be made to multi-tasked, right?

Beware of the 'Multi-Tasking' Worldview

Not really. While it is true that people nowadays can do a lot of things within the same amount of time, it does not necessarily mean greater efficacy or productivity. Does three average jobs make up for one piece of excellent work? Which statement best describes our modern living?

(A) "Jack of All Trades, Master of One"
(B) "Jack of All Trades, Master of None"?

I suspect most people find themselves more in the B-group. Here is my hypothesis. The common desire to live a 'balanced life' stem from that desire to master a lot of things at any one time, multi-tasking not only our work/jobs but our whole life. This creeps into our social domain where people try to balance their relationships in terms of scheduling time with friends and family. The danger is that if we are not careful, while we may be seen to do a lot of things, we may actually be accomplishing very minimal. Like the story of the Emperor's New Clothes, it will take an innocent little child to tell it as it is. Doing a lot of things does not equal to accomplishing a lot of things. Activities can always be ranked or prioritized. When we lose that ability to set such criteria, we know that we have diminished our capacity to discern what is really important for ourselves. When that happens, our family, our social relationships will become entangled in a web of busyness. We get trapped in a small area of sticky silk, not knowing that our rhythms and vigorous movements of external activities are actively attracting the hungry spider, ready to eat away our humanity!

Heather Menzies, an adjunct professor at Carleton University wrote a book called “No Time” which addresses the challenges of modern life on the individual, on institutions and on society. “Nobody seems to have time anymore,” she bemoans. In a fast-track lifestyle where everyone tries to accomplish many things at one go, individuals get stressed, overworked with chronic fatigue and ultimately feeling trashed. Institutions become more artificial, and even health care organizations become an institution where the ‘talk’ is louder than the ‘walk.’ Bring together stressed individuals and institutions deserting authenticity, we have a potent formula for an attention-deficit society. Civilization gets redefined as a place where every man cares only for himself. “If I care for you, who cares for me?” becomes a common justification for nonchalance. Our churches are not easily spared. The enthronement of multi-tasking capability to a symbol of admiration is fast replacing the faithful single minded focus to do one thing well at any given time.

David Harvey in his book, The Condition of Postmodernity
“Time-space compression always exacts its toll on our capacity to grapple with the realities unfolding around us.”
When we cut down time for others and space for ourselves, obviously something will need to go: our humanness. David Altheide, in An Ecology of Communication, argues that:

“An increasing array of life is processed rather than lived, recorded rather than remembered and tracked rather than understood.”
This observation aptly captures the kind of life we encounter daily. We can do so many things but never really get to rest in the house we have, to smell the flowers we grow, to give to the poor a portion of the money we earn, or to hug the children we love. We become the human do-ing instead of human be-ing. In the light of individual stress and having no time for people, isn’t it natural that we feel uncared for, and feeling de-humanized?

We are not meant to live multi-tasking lives without them exacting a personal price or a social cost from ourselves. Nothing is ever free. Everything has a price tag to it. Even salvation is not free. It has been paid for at an outrageous high price by Someone. If we blindly succumb to the everyday pressures without pausing to think, to reflect and to contemplate the Spirit of God speaking to us, we will toil through life, having eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, and hearts that will not understand.

What Then Shall we Do?

How can we get out of it all? Is there a solution to our predicament? I think there is no substitute for taking time and making space. Right from the book of Genesis, God has already placed the antidote for all of humanity. This is called the Sabbath rest: the seventh day that the Lord made holy. If Christians are to practice their Sabbath rest regularly, obeying Sabbatical principles diligently, there will be healthier individuals, more wholesome Church and ultimately a more powerful witness for Christ. Take time to relax with loved ones and to care for one another on the Sabbath day. Make the space not only in our calendars for loved ones. Carve our enough room in our hearts to let God speak to us in the serenity of the early morning hours.

Practice the Sabbath regularly and recover the original plan of God’s creation. I am willing to bet that if people in society observe diligently the Sabbatical rest principle, there will not only be lesser psychologically related issues, stress of any sort will be healthily manageable. Multi-tasking should be rightly placed in its own proper contexts. It should not define what we should do. Instead of multi-tasking everything unless otherwise, the more humane choice is wherever possible, do NOT multi-task. How does a child feel when the parent says he is listening to him, while at the same time, he fiddles frantically with an SMS on his mobile phone, his eyes aimed in front of two computer screens, and with his iPod's headphones plugged into his ears, as he munches away his chicken rice?

As Abraham Heschel wonderfully puts it.
“The Sabbath is last in creation, but first in intention.”
This creates a paradigm shift which should clue us in, toward a better understanding of the meaning of existence.

1 comment:

Malalatiana Sandra said...

I find your writing very interesting and rewarding. I want to leave you some of my following words I presume you will find it meaningless : I am a very workaholic person and it' s a choice from an indeterminate and boring rest. And personnaly, my brain prefer working than doing nothing. You must wonder how old am I ? I'm 30. And I thank God that the age of my retirement is still further away. However, I wonder what is exactly my task in this world, because frankly I am ready for doing the undo-able. Just WORK.

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