Monday, January 26, 2015

One Thing At A Time

In his youth, my husband waited tables for many years at diverse fine dining establishments. (He was also once the "Wharf Rat," wearing a fuzzy life-sized rodent costume in honor of a seaside restaurant's concept cocktail — but that's another story.) When we go out for dinner, it drives him nuts if a member of the waitstaff doesn't work efficiently. For example, if he or she is carrying a pitcher of water to someone else's table, passing by your half-empty glasses along the way. Or if they come over when you've finished eating, ask if you'd like coffee or dessert, then leave with your new order in hand but without any of your finished plates.

I never worked at a restaurant, but I did sell shoes all through college and after hours to supplement my first job in publishing (because the salary they were paying made it very clear that they only wanted to work with young people who had trust funds). The same concept of efficient traffic applied there as well. If I was going back into the stock room for a pair of red suede boots, I should pick up the pile of discarded high-heeled pumps and strappy sandals on my way.

Despite years of yoga, I still try to do more than one thing at a time — often with alarming consequences. My office is on the top floor of a nearly 200-year-old house. The stairs are steep, winding and uneven. When I need a coffee refill, I'm never content to simply carry my mug downstairs. Oh no, that would be too easy and shockingly inefficient. Instead, I grab the cup, my empty yogurt container and spoon, the outgoing mail, rough drafts to be recycled, and my cell phone. This leaves no free hand to hold the stair rail. 

Suffice it to say, I don't need yet another broken foot.

Nevertheless, fractured metatarsals aside, I'm not satisfied unless I'm accomplishing as much as possible. People like me typically point with pride to such obsessive and foolish behavior as "multitasking."

Of course, my teenage daughter and her generation have brought the concept of multitasking to a whole new level. When she heads up to her room after dinner to do homework, there's a lot more going on than one might think. Yes, she has her colossal AP U.S. History textbook open, notebook next to it, pen at the ready (only 24 pages of notes tonight, no worries). But, she also has her laptop running. She's uploading a video to Vimeo, streaming iTunes and emailing a teacher. Meanwhile, her iPhone is also in use. She's participating in multiple group texts, reviewing another teacher's PowerPoint slides, taking and posting study selfies, and playing Trivia Crack.

My best friend has three children several years older than mine. (Two are in med school and one is pursuing a PhD in nursing — underachievers all.) She told me that it took her youngest much longer to finish homework than the other two. The reason being that by the time the youngest was in high school, the kids had smart phones and access to all of the life-enhancing apps I've outlined above.

The idea of simply sitting in one place and studying for an hour or two (or four) is absolutely alien now. So I wonder are we raising a whole generation of people with attention-deficit disorder? Or are we witnessing the rise of a race of super efficient multitaskers extraordinaire?

And, if so, how will we pay for all those broken feet?

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