According to statistics, most Britons spend almost half of their waking life involved with media and communications. British regulator Ofcom calculates the average person actually squeezes in the equivalent of nearly nine hours of media and communications a day by multitasking on several devices.
This means that if you’re awake for 15 hours, you spend seven of them watching television, listening to the radio, e-mailing, texting, surfing the Net, playing games or on other activities that require gadgets.
I beg to differ. I spend a lot more hours than that interacting with my gadgets, perhaps all my waking hours. That’s not to mention sleeping with one on the bed or at least having the device within arms reach.
Upon waking, I turn the alarm off and check the time on my BlackBerry. My bathroom routine is not complete without a quick scroll of my Twitter timeline to see what exciting things I’ve missed while asleep. Shower time is probably the only time that I don’t have the device in my hand as I don’t have a waterproof cover for my phone yet.
In the car, my eyes, ears and fingers are constantly occupied, watching the in-car TV, listening to the radio, texting, instant messaging, updating my Twitter status, having a group discussion on my cellphone, reading the news online, taking pictures of interesting things that catch my eye on the way to the office and occasionally even making and receiving phone calls.
At the office, I work on my laptop with one eye on the TVs (two of them), writing, sending e-mails, watching online videos, making presentations, uploading photos, surfing the Internet, listening to music, downloading applications and all the other wonderful things you can now do with those sleek and handsome-looking devices.
Going out for a meal, the chances are my friends are similarly occupied even as we sit together and engage in real (as opposed to virtual) conversations. This is because we also have our zillion online friends to maintain with our status updates and whose activities we follow obsessively, even if we barely know them.
Repeat the scenario at home, plus throw in some video or computer games, and you get a pretty good idea of my pathetic little life. All this multitasking makes me feel busy, yet I often find myself not remembering half of what I’ve done, seen, read or listened to. I don’t feel any more efficient. I’m still an 11th-hour writer when it comes to deadlines. If anything, I now get distracted easier and it takes me longer to get anything done.
To turn on the computer is to expose oneself to a cornucopia of tempting activities. I don’t read the newspapers anymore. I skim lots of online news from different sources at the same time. I seem to find it hard to get through books these days, though I take comfort in the fact that I have all the classics in my e-book application, just in case I can find the time. Rather, I’m drawn to the mini stories that I follow on Twitter — FixiMini. These are 140-character fictional pieces created by Twitter users and amateur writers on a particular theme, with some of them so well written they could pass as haikus.
But even as technology allows you to do more things, enabling you to have information as it happens, today’s multitasking generation does not experience the art of doing one thing at a time, the joy of focusing on and completing a task uninterrupted, the delight of savoring a moment.
At home, the fixed phone has become a relic, while the answering machine looks ridiculously large and unwieldy. There was a time, however, when we could remember tens of phone numbers by heart and we didn’t know who was calling us when the phone rang. There was a time when we made and kept our appointments without recourse to constant updates on our whereabouts and how late we were going to be.
I remember how pleasant it was to spend hours on the phone having long, uninterrupted conversations without your ears getting irradiated, because chatting meant using your vocal cords and not your thumbs and conversing was with real friends and not sharing opinions and secrets with thousands of people you don’t know.
I also remember the pleasure of writing long letters in cursive on fine paper, signing my name with a flourish, folding it and licking the envelope shut and taking it to the post office to have it stamped and mailed. And I would collect those stamps, keeping them in books and looking up in big encyclopedias about the countries they came from.
And I also recall the satisfaction of finishing a thick novel and returning it to the library.
During these moments I was undisturbed. I was single tasking and I savored every moment of it.
Desi Anwar is a senior anchor and writer. She can be contacted at www.desianwar.com and www.dailyavocado.net.