By Jenny Allen - Yesterday, watching the news while using the elliptical machine at the gym, I tried to speed up my pace by...turning up the volume on the TV. I do it all the time. I also regularly forget to unplug my headset before walking away, treating my fellow gymgoers to the spectacle of my jerking to a sudden, yanked stop.
I never laughed when people used to joke about President Gerald Ford not being able to walk and chew gum at the same time, because I didn't really find it that funny. I actually can walk and chew gum at the same time. But, truly, I understand why others might find it taxing. When it comes to multitasking, I am more competent only by a hair, and sometimes not even that.
More than once, I've found myself standing in my bedroom closet holding, say, a screwdriver and a cup of coffee, as clueless as a sleepwalker about what I am doing there. And I cannot answer the phone while writing an e-mail without sending the message to the wrong person-or calling the person on the phone by the name of the person I'm e-mailing.
Obviously, I am especially unsuited for multitasking; but I would argue that, while most of us are doing it, none of us is doing it very well.
If you are playing a family board game while making cookies for your block's bake sale, are you really playing a board game with your family, or driving everyone crazy by jumping up to check the oven every five minutes? Why have women signed on to do so many things at once? We don't, after all, expect men to multitask. A man lying on the sofa reading the newspaper is busy. A woman lying on the sofa reading the newspaper is underemployed and interruptible-a signal her family picks up because she herself sends it out. We seem to consider ourselves unworthy unless we make ourselves available to our family and others all of the time-and there's no way to do that without cramming every minute with two or three chores.