Talking with a new friend, a lovely woman poet and writer, decrying the state of the world, we alight on a subject familiar to both, a not-so-new phenomenon espoused by far too many who are, in truth, incapable of making it work.
Multitasking is the order of the day. I don’t know anyone with either Cocteau’s or da Vincy’s genius, which is to say I don’t know anyone who multitasks with a high degree of success. Mostly, I see people display their lack of patience and inability to stick with a single project. Call it intellectual attention deficit. Multitasking is a reversion to kindergarten.
I was reminded of this yesterday night as I threaded my way through a multitude of files on my computer. In the recent past, I’ve opted to involve myself in others’ multitasking, and not once has this truly paid off. I have the first twenty pages of three books to which a writing partner was going to contribute, but did not. I have plays written at the request of a theater person who was going to produce them but lost interest. There are blogs written in partnership that ceased to exist after four entries, and a gorgeous online magazine that never made it past Issue One; multitasks all. I wonder at this need to accomplish more than one thing at a time, a desire that inevitably leads nowhere.
My father was a plodder. I say this now with respect and kindness, though when I was much younger I looked down upon his single-mindedness. I was much more impressed with my mother, who acted on stage and painted and entertained weekly and played championship bridge, and ran a half-dozen French interest groups with great drama and complaints.
It was only much later that I realized my father always finished what he started, whether it was laying down a thousand bricks to create a patio, or writing his weekly columns for European newspapers. He never missed a deadline, and the brickwork he did was elegant and lasting. Mostly he worked alone, though he did from time to time dragoon me into putting up a gazebo or replacing the glass in his greenhouse. I take after him. I’m a plodder as well and increasingly proud of it. I get things done when I say I will.
Perhaps doing several things at once makes us feel we accomplish more. We can boast of our juggling even as we drop the balls. We feel better and more accomplished than the boring mere mortals who can’t manage to keep chainsaws, bowling pins and spinning plates on sticks in he air simultaneously. Multitasking is the appearance of accomplishments, not the reality. If we do not give a hundred percent to the task at hand, we won’t get a hundred percent result. The more we add to our circus act, the less we produce stuff that is successful and not just hot air.
One of the problems we encounter with multitaskers is their uncanny ability to drag others along. We singletaskers are trusting souls. We believe it when someone we trust or admire says that, together, we will accomplish great feats. We assume the other person will give a hundred percent. We don’t expect our shared project to be abandoned by our partners, often without explanation.
This need to do more than necessary with less than success isn’t new, but it’s disconcerting. When I try to multitask, say by working on two or three books at once, I can almost guarantee that no book will be finished with the degree of finesse a reader expects, or with the respect the written word deserves.