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Multitask this

Andy Stone

I was explaining something very important to my wife yesterday morning when I suddenly realized she wasn’t listening. I don’t remember exactly what I was explaining. I might have been chatting about Nine-Dimensional Super String Theory and how it reveals that the physical universe is simply a manifestation of the mind of God, which is certainly an important topic to consider at the breakfast table. Or I could have been explaining the correct way to put silverware into the dishwasher – a simple enough matter that my wife has somehow never managed to grasp, no matter how many times I have carefully explained it to her over the past 20 years.In any case, I was certainly saying something important, and I realized that my wife was feeding the dog, reading the paper, cheering on some woman on the radio who was attacking the president, working her way through a bowl of oatmeal – and definitely not paying any attention to me.So I stopped talking. Midsentence. Minutes passed. Finally my wife looked at me and said, “What?””You weren’t paying any attention to what I was saying,” I pointed out.”Yes, I was!” she answered. “I was just multitasking.”Ah! “Multitasking.” I had heard all about it on National Public Radio the other day, in a story that explained that women are inherently better than men at “multitasking.” Add just one more item to that long, long list. But you know, really, “multitasking” just means doing two things at once … and that was once considered the minimum acceptable level of functioning intelligence. It used to be, “He’s so dumb he can’t chew gum and walk at the same time.” Now it’s “Chew gum and walk. That’s multitasking. Of course he can’t do it – he’s a man.”You want to see men “multitasking”? Look around next time you’re driving to work, and you’ll see men who can pick their nose and drive at the same time – and maybe even talk on the cell phone too. (Makes you think twice about borrowing someone’s cell phone, doesn’t it?)Anyway, I caught my wife doing a superlative job of multitasking the other morning.She was brushing her teeth and looking for her car keys. I heard the buzz of her electric toothbrush as she wandered out of the bathroom, through the hall and into the living room – foaming at the mouth and peering under the couch, looking for her keys.Trying to be helpful, I pointed out that at least if she got lost she could retrace her steps by following the trail of toothpaste spatters on the carpet.Peering into the future, I could imagine how events would unfold. Once she found the car keys, she’d realize she’d put down the toothbrush somewhere along the way. So the hunt for the toothbrush would begin – during which, to save time, she’d be combing tangles out of the cat’s fur. Then, toothbrush retrieved from inside the toaster oven, it’d be time to start looking for the cat. (Please … not locked in the refrigerator again!)I outlined this scenario to my wife. Her response, while undoubtedly eloquent, was unfortunately lost in a vehement spray of toothpaste.But, in fact, my wife does handle a multitude of simultaneous tasks brilliantly. The only real problem was my perception of the situation.For example, at breakfast the other morning, she was eating her oatmeal, reading the paper, feeding the dog, shouting at the radio and, at the very same time, doing a brilliant job of one more task: ignoring me.Multitasking indeed.Andy Stone is former editor of The Aspen Times. His e-mail address is andy@aspentimes.com


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