Wednesday, January 9, 2008

On Multi-tasking

Multitasking has become a key word in the sale of many consumer goods. There are Bluetooth headsets that allow us to talk on the phone while driving and smart phones which serve as our daily organizers while including a camera and web browser. Time has been commoditized such that we must manage our time more efficiently. Products which allow us more time for work or relaxing thus find great success in the marketplace. As our cell phones and computers become more advanced, the extravagance of these items has come into question. As JD mentioned, CES is taking place this week in Las Vegas, and there have been reports on new gadgets are coming out by the minute. There have been some very good examples of unnecessary items, which roll up the most unusual functions into one neat little device. One ridiculous example can be found over at Engadget here. In the Starry Night bed, we have the epitome of today’s world, which feels that everything must be combined into a single unit to make it more effective, more efficient. I feel that the Starry Night bed is far beyond anything an ordinary person would ever need. However, in terms of products like the iPhone, there are real productive uses that come out of it.

JD and I had a fairly heated debate on this topic just now and I have to disagree with many of his thoughts on multitasking. There are clear productivity gains from having an organizer, e-mail client, web browsing, and phone all encompassed by a singular device. In some ways, I feel that the iPhone is a poor example as it is often regarded as a chic device, almost like a toy. People would do not need the iPhone buy one as a status symbol. Here, I would concede the fact that most people believe that they are busier than they really are. However, in terms of people with tight schedules (such as businessmen or perhaps even with a college student), there are meetings to make and activities to attend. To have the capability to check email and then put that into a scheduler in one device would be rather convenient (especially as a guy who does not want to carry multiple things in my pockets). While I do not particularly need a $500 iPhone to carry out these functions, I would have to say that having an electronic scheduler, phone, and email in one device would increase productivity. Pappano speaks about electronic planners saying that “A day is no longer a stretch of time between waking up and going to bed; it is a series of spaces into which data may be entered and linked to specific times” (pp 64). However, I do not see how screens have driven people to plan their days to the last minute. Before electronic schedulers, there were date books. Simply because technology has made organization more efficient does not mean technology has resulted in this behavior. The fact that people feel that they must check off their tasks for the day most likely derives from the fact that in America, we believe that hard work will lead to success. Therefore, we feel like we must do more in a day in order to have really accomplished something. Much like seeing a completed project, seeing a list of daily tasks all checked off may give people the idea that something was done in the course of the day.

In terms of multitasking creating a connection gap, I can understand that in some cases we do separate ourselves in favor of browsing the internet alone. I agree with JD that people sometimes interact with their digital media rather than other people, but people must do so at the proper time. When traveling on a plane, people multitask by pulling out a laptop to work on. However, I would also present the idea that screens are once again taking the blame for things which have already been in place for years to avoid human contact. Strictly speaking on the topic of human contact, I would bring up the case of books as a creating a connection gap (I understand that books may give a more enriching experience than watching a television show). We often bring books or magazines onto planes, a little kiosk selling books and magazines right in the terminal area. Alternatively, we could try to interact with the person we are sitting next to, even if they are a stranger. However, we choose the alternative of isolating ourselves whether through books or film, even when in close proximity of others. We can blame the fact that on most planes today, each seat has their own personal screen. Once we become bored of speaking to the person next to us, we can simply plug in headphones and block the other person out. Without technology I would personally go to sleep.

All in all, multitasking enabled us to manage time better. Better productivity leads to more free time to spend with those close to us, strengthening our connections. Perhaps working in a space which could be used to interact with others will detract from the amount of connections a person would otherwise make. However, the benefit of extra time can be put into going a cooking class or some other social atmosphere.

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