Multitasking: Bad for the Soul
My husband and I had been married for eight years when I gave birth to our first child. Two years later, his brother was born. Eighteen months later, their sister. And less than two years after that, we started the adoption process and soon brought home a daughter.
"You're busy," people would remark, eyeing me with my children. I never knew whether the comment was tinged with pity or admiration.
Yes, I was busy. But, more significantly, I was evolving into a different person. No longer the dreamy, walk-taking, tea-drinking, poem-writing person who baked her own bread, I had become a woman barreling down the aisles at the grocery store, baby in sling, toddlers fastened into cart. After years of toting children on my hip, my forearms had begun to resemble Popeye the Sailor's.
And I wasn't just busy with the kids. Like many "at-home" mothers, I had part-time work and volunteer responsibilities at church and my children's schools. Meanwhile, I was making Herculean efforts to stay close to my husband and friends. I found myself setting up interviews for a newspaper story, ordering curriculum, and making reminder calls from my cell phone in the grocery store—while, of course, keeping the kids in sight, buying food for the week, and stopping to compare the prices of varieties of pears.
In short, I learned to multitask.
In recent years, of course, we've learned that it is actually impossible to multitask. Study after study after study chide us for believing we can make our brains do more than one thing at a time. "A core limitation [of the human brain] is an inability to concentrate on two things at once," says René Marois, a neuroscientist at Vanderbilt University. When we are multitasking, we are actually just switching from one task to another at astonishing speed. It's unproductive, distracting, and dangerous to multitask, we are told.
But over the years, I became something of a multitasking expert. And I began to suffer from it. I answered e-mail from my phone while waiting for a freight train to pass. Before picking the kids up from school, I'd troll around the neighborhood, choosing a parking space based on whether I could find a Wi-Fi signal in order to get an additional few minutes of work done.
I felt, to use the old expression, that I was drinking from a fire hose. Equally compelled to answer unimportant messages ("Thanks for letting us use your car-top carrier. We left it on your front porch") as more critical ones ("Can you remind me where I'm supposed to be for the photo shoot this afternoon?"), I was losing perspective. I was also finding it hard to hear God, what with all the text and e-mail alerts on my phone, the call waiting signal, and my kids' voices creating a low roar.