I’m going to take a big risk here and guess you’re probably doing something else while you read this post. You’re listening to the new Head and the Heart album Let’s Be Still, you’re talking with your roommate, you’re tabbing back and forth between here, Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, Google Scholar, and a word document containing only a title that you sunk two hours into creating (congrats). When you ride to work or walk to class, you block out the world with the help of your friends Samsung, Apple, and Bose; while you inhale your breakfast and chug down your misguided choice of Caffeine Delivery Systems (Dunkin Donuts, seriously?) you manage to catch five minutes of Arrested Development. The time you spend at Pinkberry is split between taking snapchat selfies with your accompanying friend and live-tweeting about the best #froyo you’ve ever had. What’s the problem with all of this, you ask?
Did you intend on spending two hours working on the perfect title for your research paper? What did your roommate just say? Do you know what the walk to class or the drive to work really looks like? What it sounds like? How’s that new album, do you remember what your favorite song was? What did breakfast taste like? How about the coffee? Did you catch that shark-jumping reference to Happy Days in Arrested Development? Is that really the best frozen yogurt you’ve ever had? How would you even know?
Until we learn to do just one thing at a time, we never will. We’ll continue to coast through our days with a screen to our face and noise in our ears, floating at the top of the river of Experience because we’re afraid of the bottom, of boredom, or loneliness, or interaction. Leave the surface. Dive to the bottom and feel the current slow, slow enough to watch each particle of sand pass happily by. Uncover a long-lost world where the beauty lives in the details and reveals herself only to those who take the time to truly search.
Clean up and simplify your life. Spend your walks listening to the crunch of leaves beneath your feet and the mosaic symphony of the environment. Listen to a new album while doing nothing else, appreciate how the artist spins a narrative through the music and allow yourself to feel the peaks and valleys of the tempo and intensity. Work singularly and let go of the lie you tell others and yourself that you’re good at multitasking, or that listening to music while you work inspires you, or whatever convenient falsehood you’ve spun to ignore the troublesome truth that your attention span caps out at seven seconds. Drink your coffee not as a means to an end or as a pharmacological intervention designed to double that span to 14, but as an experience in itself. Take in the aroma, the flavor, the gradual crescendo of your heartbeat accelerating as the caffeine molecules enter your brain. Replace that time spent on social media with time spent on social living and deeply engage in emotive conversation with your frozen yogurt friend; stop seeking validation online and instead you’ll receive it in person.
Multitasking isn’t choosing quantity over quality, it’s choosing neither. Start single-tasking your way through life and see your relationships, your work, and your media in a deeper new light. Perhaps you’ll realize you need to ditch the Dunkin for a cup of home-brewed.