gothwalk: (Default)
( Jan. 28th, 2008 01:54 pm)

Originally published at Now Is A Long Time Too. You can comment here or there.

There’s a fascinating article by Walter Kirn in November’s Atlantic Monthly, called The Autumn of the Multitaskers. It basically argues that trying to do multiple things at once is a fad of the current era, possibly caused and definitely accentuated by conceptualising the brain as a computer. And further, it seems it’s not good for you. There’s a level at which this appeals to me, because I’m very bad at multitasking. Unless I carefully prepare myself for it, I have difficulty switching from one task to another without a few seconds of blank staring in between. And if I do the preparation, then neither task is really done to the best of my ability.

There’s an argument that this is a problem most men have; women seem to multitask better. I can barely walk and engage in a sensible conversation at the same time; many women seem to be able to do both as well as, for instance, send a text message. I don’t know many men who can multitask well.

This is somewhat belied by the fact that as I write this, I have earphones on and am listening to my current favourite genre of epic metal music, and am holding two IM conversations at the same time. The music, however, isn’t really a distraction; it’s partly in use to block out surrounding conversation and noise from the workplace, and partly to make me comfortable - I’m not actively listening to it. The two IM conversations are about prosaic, day-to-day items in the workplace. Neither of them is requiring much from me other than quick bursts of information I have no trouble recalling.

Part of the Getting Things Done method that I’ve been trying, with some success, to stick with, is a principle that having other stuff in your head, background tasks, prevents you from getting on with the ones in hand. The solution there is to dump everything you can think of out to a set of lists, where you can come back to them later. In other words, you can concentrate better if you’re not multitasking.

In Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, the narrator is a bit horrified by a motorbike repair shop where it’s clear that the employees are doing more listening to the radio than concentrating on their work, with poor work being the result - and moreover, it’s poor work that they’re not aware of; they think they know what they’re doing, and doing a good job.

I don’t know if I believe that multitasking is bad for you, but it’s an interesting line of thinking.

gothwalk: (Default)
( Nov. 16th, 2007 12:32 pm)

Originally published at Now Is A Long Time Too. You can comment here or there.

The general lack of usefulness of careers guidance teachers has come up a lot in conversation recently. I know that the one we had in school was, while well-meaning, absolutely no use - it should, for instance, have been perfectly clear to anyone who looked at my academic record that I was more suited to arts than science, but she went along with the standard view of “intelligent boys should do science”. Although, being honest, she was a nun, and had other priorities; the number of guys in my class who reported that they’d been told she believed they had a vocation was impressive.

But thinking about it, what the hell can they do? How do you determine what a 16 year old might be good at, when a sizeable fraction of the jobs potentially available at 22 don’t exist yet? “Game testing” is now a perfectly valid career path - I know three or four game testers - but anyone proposing that in the early 90s to a careers guidance teacher would have got a blank look, and from the better ones, a gentle reminder of reality.

The job I’m doing now did not exist at all when I was 16, and barely existed by the time I was 19. I’ve been around for the invention of it, essentially. Most of my friends work in jobs that similarly did not exist. Careers guidance teachers did not know terms like “systems administration” in the 90s, “computer programmer” was barely on the horizon in their terms.

And it’s not just my techie friends, either. I can see a guy right now through the office window who’s cleaning the stonework with a very high-tech looking steam gun. He looks like he’s enjoying his work. Given that he’s driving a very shiny black SUV, with a registration plate from this year, I’m thinking he’s doing pretty well too. But I’ll bet his careers guidance teacher did not say “steam-cleaning stonework for corporate buildings, son, it’s a licence to print money”.

Go back another ten years, and the default assumption was that most of us would do the same jobs as our parents. I went to school with kids who lived on farms that their families had owned and worked on for four generations. The concept that any of them might not be farmers was both alien and unwelcome. There were a few non-farming families; instead, they’d been shopkeepers, steel cutters, or carpenters for similar lengths of time.

So, given that by the time the kids currently coming out of 2nd level education get into employment, the jobs they are doing will be things like “search refinement engineer” or “nanotechnology compensator”, or “bioinformatics controller”, or whatever, how can careers guidance counsellors possibly do anything useful? No wonder they’re all bitter.

And yet you can’t just get rid of them - kids need some guidance about college courses, or they’ll end up opting for an easy course in whatever college their best friend is going to. So… how do you offer careers guidance these days?



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