Trust Me, You Will Enjoy This Piece (Multitasking Edition)

A simply great piece, “The Autumn of the Multitaskers” by Walter Kirn in the Atlantic. As someone who nearly died while multitasking, Kirm is particularly well positioned to discuss the considerable downside and dubious benefits of our modern way of attempting to process inputs. It’s an informative and often funny read.

A few representative paragraphs:

But on to the next inevitable contraction that everybody knows is coming, believes should have come a couple of years ago, and suspects can be postponed only if we pay no attention to the matter and stay very, very busy. I mean the end of the decade we may call the Roaring Zeros—these years of overleveraged, overextended, technology-driven, and finally unsustainable investment of our limited human energies in the dream of infinite connectivity. The overdoses, freak-outs, and collapses that converged in the late ’60s to wipe out the gains of the wide-eyed optimists who set out to “Be Here Now” but ended up making posters that read “Speed Kills” are finally coming for the wired utopians who strove to “Be Everywhere at Once” but lost a measure of innocence, or should have, when their manic credo convinced us we could fight two wars at the same time.

The Multitasking Crash.

The Attention-Deficit Recession…..

Human freedom, as classically defined (to think and act and choose with minimal interference by outside powers), was not a product that firms like Microsoft could offer, but they recast it as something they could provide. A product for which they could raise the demand by refining its features, upping its speed, restyling its appearance, and linking it up with all the other products that promised freedom, too, but had replaced it with three inferior substitutes that they could market in its name:

Efficiency, convenience, and mobility.

For proof that these bundled minor virtues don’t amount to freedom but are, instead, a formula for a period of mounting frenzy climaxing with a lapse into fatigue, consider that “Where do you want to go today?” was really manipulative advice, not an open question. “Go somewhere now,” it strongly recommended, then go somewhere else tomorrow, but always go, go, go—and with our help. But did any rebel reply, “Nowhere. I like it fine right here”? Did anyone boldly ask, “What business is it of yours?” Was anyone brave enough to say, “Frankly, I want to go back to bed”?

Maybe a few of us. Not enough of us. Everyone else was going places, it seemed, and either we started going places, too—especially to those places that weren’t places (another word they’d redefined) but were just pictures or documents or videos or boxes on screens where strangers conversed by typing—or else we’d be nowhere (a location once known as “here”) doing nothing (an activity formerly labeled “living”). What a waste this would be. What a waste of our new freedom.

Continue here.

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  1. Lune

    You might enjoy reading Faster by James Gleick. Gleick’s thesis is similar, and he talks about everything from watches to elevators to develop it. It’s actually a very fun book.

  2. Charles Butler

    Curiously, one of the most powerful tools in the hostage-release negotiator’s kit is the offering of too many choices to the perpetrator – typically breaking the guy down with topping options for the pizza they are going to order for him.

    Alnomg the same line, Yves, this YouTube thing that seems to be appearing at the top of your blog recently….?

  3. Yves Smith


    Ed Wright, who handles the ad stuff, has been experimenting with the placement of the video. I agree it is intrusive at the top, but it gets clicked on there, but not at the bottom.

    I may run a post soon about ad issues (most bloggers seem unwilling to talk about that for some reason) and see what feedback I get.

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