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Urban Junkie

Sunday, September 25, 2005

Multitasking and the crowded dictionary

I remember reading somewhere that one of the unique and defining characteristics of today’s generation is their ability to multitask. They talk on the phone while driving, talk on the phone while exercising, exercise while checking email, check email while driving. Wow.

Let me see if I’ve got this right.

Multitasking (mλlti`ta:skiђ) v. doing several things at once; handling more than one task at a time. As in … keeping an eye on the milk boiling, toasting bread, frying an egg, brewing tea and simultaneously laying the table for breakfast? Or, maybe, doing the kids’ homework while keeping the dog’s head out of the garbage and the toddler’s hand out of the oven?

Many of the women I know would be glad there is finally an official name for this. Many of the men, too, actually. None of them, however, can claim to be Gen-Xers. (Actually I think it’s Gen-Y these days … or do I mean Gen-Z? In a clever deployment of their knowledge of the alphabet, the media keep relabeling the youth … I’ve lost track now).

However. To get back to my point. Why is multitasking a new-age thing? Why is it owned by Gen X/Y/Z? Granted, life is hugely busy these days, work hours are long and there is much more fun to be had. So maybe it isn’t so unfair of them to invent a new word and claim ownership. But it doesn’t stop there, you see.

There is a related concept called ‘multiminding’ that has just arisen. Today’s generation can multimind; that is to say, they have several different things on their minds at the same time. This is what is responsible for their short attention spans, proclivity for soundbytes, channel surfing, poor memory for advertising and so on.

Multiminding (mλlti`maindiђ) v. having more than one thought in your head at any time.

Really?! No, seriously, is this a joke? Is the ability to process multiple thoughts and ideas simultaneously such a marvel for Gen Z that we need to invent a new word for it?

The pressure to rewrite the dictionary to describe the life and times of each successive generation is not new. There is, for example, the concept of ‘quality time’ that dates back a few years. ‘Quality time’ actually has fairly respectable origins, being rooted in the idea that time we spend with / on something we love needs to be of high quality, given the shortage of it these days. The usage of the term, however, leaves you considerably puzzled.

“Sorry I can’t make it for lunch … I need to spend quality time with my son”. Quality time as opposed to what? Why not just say ‘I need to spend time’ / ‘do homework’ / ‘watch a movie’ / ‘go to the park’ etc? But no doubt the word ‘quality’ adds a subtle dimension I have missed.

“What will you be doing?” I asked, keen to get to the bottom of this. “Oh, just homework, and – you know – bonding”. Aah. Just hanging out, chatting, swapping news. What one would usually do, I imagine, when spending time with the kids. I wonder why it needs to be specified.

And there’s another of those words up there. Bonding. If it adds any extra dimension to the meaning of ordinary friendly exchanges, it is clearly lost on me. Besides, “we really bonded” could mean anything from “we had a nice chat” to “we became bosom pals”. Our parents used to meet people, make new friends, exchange gossip, revive old friendships, share secrets, share problems. We, however, ‘bond’.

Aren’t there already too many words for us to remember, without adding more unnecessary ones?

Lake Superior State University agrees. The university annually compiles a List of Words Banished from the Queen's English for Mis-Use, Over-Use and General Uselessness. The top award for 2004, I was delighted to find, went to my old favorite, 'metrosexual’. I quote from the article:

Bob Forrest of Tempe, Arizona, says it "sounds like someone who only has sex downtown or on the subway." Fred Bernardin of Arlington, Massachusetts, asks, "Aren't there enough words to describe men who spend too much time in front of the mirror?"

Amen to that.


  • As Malcolm Galdwell said in his book Blink, humans have a story telling problem.. Hence more the usage of such words, better the story.

    By Blogger Jayesh, at 11:55 AM, September 25, 2005  

  • Do I have to quote someone or some article from someplace to make my point here? :) GYAN OVERLOAD in this part of the world.. THINKING IS INJURIOUS TO HEALTH. Peace

    By Blogger arvindiyer, at 1:57 PM, September 25, 2005  

  • hush!! there are people making a living out of jargonising..:).. btw, wonder if humanity ends after gen Z!!

    By Blogger manuscrypts, at 10:06 PM, September 25, 2005  

  • jayesh: I love words and I'm all for new ones that make a story more vivid. But 'multiminding'and so on? Surely not? :)... however, the use (and abuse) of words is a matter of personal taste, I guess.

    arvind: No quotes needed and I agree entirely. I am known to go overboard on the subject of words!

    manuscrypts : I think humanity begins afresh after gen Z ... the cycle of rebirth, etc.

    By Blogger Anjali, at 2:58 AM, September 26, 2005  

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