My Take

Freedom at last from multitasking

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 4:23am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 12 November, 2013, 4:23am

My life has been hijacked by mobile computing.

I didn't realise it until many things electronic in my life started to break down in recent weeks. I went through a short period of anger and withdrawal. Now I hope those geniuses at the IT department in my office never fix our remote e-mail access. I no longer have compulsion to check e-mails every 15 minutes on my desktop at home or my smartphone outside the office. What liberation!

Some of my friends and readers complain about delayed replies, but in the larger scheme of things, the world would be a better place if we sent fewer e-mails and demanded less time of each other.

Mobile computing may not have invented multitasking, but it certainly encourages it. Most hacks take pride in their multitasking ability. It comes with the job: tweet headlines, file an instant story online and write a full story for the print edition, while e-mailing and phoning sources for quotes. It turns out multitasking - in virtually every professional field - makes you underperform in every task involved. That was the surprise finding by sociologist Clifford Nass, who died suddenly this month. Focusing and prioritising on essential tasks is far more productive than multitasking.

I no longer check readers' comments to my column religiously like I used to on my temperamental Samsung smartphone. I am thankful for the atrocious customer service at Samsung, which makes you wait hours to hand in your phone for repair. That has so far deterred me from bringing in my new Samsung phone, which drains battery like mad. You can see the battery indicator falling even as we speak. To conserve it, I avoid surfing the web or taking photos or videos, sticking to essentials such as making and receiving phone calls and messaging when necessary. This may have saved my life: I look up when I cross the road now.

On my office desk is a New Yorker cartoon featuring a woman on the phone at her home. The caption reads: "A bunch of friends are coming over to stare at their phones." Now I actually look at and talk to people while I have meals with them, people like my wife and children and friends. When I am alone, I don't fidget with my dysfunctional Samsung in a coffee shop. I read a newspaper.