I Thought I Needed To Multitask Until I Learned About Single-Tasking. Now I Feel Multi-Silly.

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I'm not saying I was chatting, writing a paper, listening to music, browsing Facebook, and drafting emails while I was writing this sentence. But I'm not saying I wasn't either.

Dr. Hamblin's argument seems to be about being more productive, but beyond getting more things done for ourselves, multitasking is also about how we relate to people we care about.

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James Hamblin: If you ask me the last time I did a thing and just did it and wasn't also trying to be something else, I wouldn't be able to tell you. What? No. Thought I had it.

To be fully present on the Internet at any given moment is a very rare thing. You're trying to write a paper. And so, you've that open in Google Docs and then you're like, "Well, maybe I should read a little bit more about the thing I'm writing about." And then, there's a link in there. You're like, "This is a little tangential, but may be it's interesting that I should know about meerkats. Ooh, the meerkats lay eggs. I didn't know that. Is that correct?" And then, there's videos of not just meerkats, but three-toed sloths. "Oh my Gosh, these things are actually like traded in inhumane ways. I should probably get involved with some sort of activism there." So, you're like joining the Facebook page, telling your friends like, "This isn't right what we're doing to the sloths." And then, you're like who like, liked my sweet pics that I posted this morning on Facebook. "Wow, it's my ex-girlfriend. Is she still into me?" May be I'll spend 30 minutes composing a message that I never send. Or, if I did send, that I then regret and spend the next hour composing a message retracting that. And then, I'm like, "Wow, I have got a lot done on my paper. Not."

The way the technology is, in the way I interact that with it, has started to affect me in real life. Am I developing some sort of inability to focus? Because I never focus on things. I was like, "Well, maybe this is life mimicking Internet, you know."

So, I started to do this thing, "Tabless Thursday." It's where you don't really use the Internet in a traditional way. You just sort of open a tab and use it. It's called single-tasking. That's what I call it. So, it's basically if you were to do... It's like instead of... Like you just do one thing. It's like work, but on only one thing. This way, you have to really make the value judgment and say, "Do I want to finish what I'm doing? Or, do I want to stop and do something else?" You can click away if it's not interesting, but you close it. And it's done, and it's behind you, and it's not part of your life. It's like breaking up and you can talk again, but you can't still be seeing that person because you moved on to a new thing. You can't still be with that tab. You know, that tab is behind you.

It's not just about tabs. You know, tabs are a metaphor for life, right? And if you can just have one tab open and be doing it well, that's like you are fully present in the moment in this way that everyone is constantly... I think that's like, in some religions, like the ultimate goal, right? I'm gonna misappropriate any religion that I might name here, but Buddhism.

Interviewer: "Tabless Thursday"?

James Hamblin: That's "Tabless Thursday," yeah.

Interviewer: Did you think about "Tabless Tuesday"?

James Hamblin: Yes, "Taco Tuesday", "Tabless Thursday." I don't doubt that you're probably doing something else right now while you're watching this. I hope maybe that you aren't. Because I know I would be watching also... I usually watch two or three videos at the same time, and I feel like I think I can take it in. But, I couldn't tell you one video I've ever watched.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

Dr. James Hamblin, MD is a senior editor at The Atlantic, which produced this video. I know what you're thinking, and yes, he reminds me of Doogie Howser too.

Jul 29, 2014

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