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The senility of thinking I have a multitasking system

Posted: 08.01.07

One of the things you learn quickly in the computer infomation business is that you are not in control, you are at best a laboratory rat running the maze in search of cheese or your freedom, neither of which you will obtain.

It begins when you learn that computers are fast, scary scary fast and because they are so much faster than you, they can do multiple things while you are trying as fast as you can to strike the next key. You are such a fool, and if a computer were sentient it would laugh at you, but it’s not, it has a higher goal than time-wasting narcissistic self-realization.

And so, you click to set about your task, magnificent and important to you and maybe even others. You are going to do something, pay a bill, write a memo, enter some data into a spreadsheet which will shape the lives and fortunes of thousands of people, or maybe just write an email to your new friend in MySpace. You begin by clicking on the appropriate icon, the 16x6 pixel representation that is a modern day hieroglyphic that you’ve been trained to believe means something, represents something.

You click and meanwhile the insensitive non-caring computer has completed six billion operations that you in all your egotistical assumption of power aren’t even aware of, and thankfully so, for if you were you would go stark raving mad, assuming of course that you aren’t already.

Click, there you’ve done it, any second, or two, or maybe more, perhaps 30 seconds from now you will see the product of your trivial little click. That icon you selected will magically manifest itself into a giant icon representing a workspace and a portal to even more wondrous and exciting items of power, or so you think, and after four, maybe five seconds hope, and being a child of the ADD age (self-diagnosed, and medicated) you can’t stand the loss of what you call productivity and lunge your cursor at yet another icon to start another task or operation because you are far too important and too insecure to be with yourself for this long and must have the stimulation of thinking you’re actually doing something.

The new icon blinks, that’s positive feedback. It’s informing your ratcheted little mind that you, god of the universe have actually accomplished something, you got an icon to acknowledge you touched it. And it dutifully begins its appointed scripted task, fulfilling, you think, your wishes, nay, your orders, do it!

It too takes more than two seconds to accomplish its task in spite of the dual CPUs running at 3.7 GHz, and now you’re in that terrible space again, the room closing in on you, darkness preceding from your periphery forcing your vision into a tightly focused cone of brilliant florescent backlit pixels delivered by crystals as twisted as your caffeine stained brain.

Nature abhors a vacuum and you and your clan of information workers abhor a latency, so for activity’s sake, you select another pliable and unsuspecting icon and click on it, knowing, confidently that your dual 3.7 GHz dual processors are more than capable of running multiple threads of instructions and file collections.

And now 19 seconds have passed and your blood pressure has risen 12% and you’re tapping your foot, now both feet, and then, like magic, for it surely is magic since you don’t understand it and certainly can’t explain it, a window opens revealing the working environment of what you and your equally hypnotized colleagues call an application, never questioning what the word “application” might mean or who or what is being applied.

You now touch with you ever diligent and constantly blinking mouse cursor the action tab of the application to begin the process you originally set out to do. Instead, a new, unexpected window appears, a smaller one, with no charm or character in a monochromatic gray slate that announces that there is an error, a mistake, or maybe it’s just a question about your intentions, so do you want to? DO you? Yes or no? Or cancel maybe? DO you? Well do you? This was not part of the deal, not in the contract you thought you had with this machine with its software user interface. But there is no time for such metaphysical and theoretical questions, you must react, you are the slave, and it demands your response and if you don’t respond the entire machine will go, in fact has gone, on strike. It sits there blinking at you, as if to say, “Well?”

Your mind races and you think you know the answer and you click one of the buttons, and the millisecond after you do, 1.3 million operations of the CPU too late for you, you wonder if you made the right choice for that was not the highlighted button and you aren’t sure of the consequences until you see the application you thought you were going to use although you’ve long forgotten why, disappear, with an insulting chime just to make sure you know that it was you who did it.

And so you pick on yet another icon, and immediately click again on the icon of the recently disappearing application because you just remembered why you wanted it.

Approximately three minutes have passed, you’re not aware of it, but the computer is because it keeps time, it just doesn’t keep score, well, not exactly.

Now you look at the handwritten note you were handed as you walked to your cubicle from the coffee machine and you remember now what it was you were supposed to do. And while you were looking at the antique analog handwritten slip of paper, your dual 3.75GHz processors and their 7500 RPM disk drives have delivered all four of the applications you thought you once wanted. A masterpiece of multi-tasking, except for one problem, you can’t remember what it was you were going to do. Now not only are you wasting time, being inefficient, but now you’ve added self doubt to the stack.

We’ve all read the papers, and seen the training tapes, and heard the lectures, about how stress shuts us down, how even though we think we’re cool, we’ll be unproductive. But, we’re not like that, we can actually really multitask, these feather-headed would-be shrinks keep convincing our bosses that we can’t—multi-task that is. What do they know; we’re doing it all day every day.

Twelve minutes have passed since you clicked on the first icon, and although there are four applications open on your multiple screens you can’t remember why and so you click on another icon because you just remembered something else that you forgot to take care of yesterday, or was it something you thought of while driving to work, or…

Twenty minutes have passed, you pick up your coffee cup and the dark brown fluid of life is cold, nothing more disgusting than that and so you get up to remedy the situation, saying to yourself, I need to clear my head, assuming that whatever it was you were originally thinking of will come back to you if you only change the scene and get away from the computer. The computer, your slave, remember? Can’t remember? Are you senile? gray