Women are better at multitasking than men. It’s an oft-heard refrain and one that, since embarking on the chaotic journey that is motherhood, I have encountered far too often.
Meant as a compliment (I hope), it’s an assertion that leaves me cold. This mindless celebration of multitasking as a virtue in its own right is making fools of all of us; moreover, it is robbing marketers of the space necessary for strategic thinking.
Just as the triumphalist rhetoric of "having it all" has been muddied by the sometimes crushing reality of doing it all, multitasking has been mistaken for the cure, rather than a symptom, of today’s always-on, digitally driven information economy. The celebration of multitasking suggests that we are somehow lacking if we give just one thing our full attention.
To keep up, we have colluded in creating a vicious cycle of rapid response, action and reaction, leaving marketers with little time to breathe, let alone pause for creative thought and critical analysis.
Marketers, who find themselves at the sharp end of this information revolution, are collectively feeding the beast through the seemingly inexorable obsession with the new. It’s a shift that is having a significant impact on the industry, where the danger is that the blunt act of adopting technology in itself is mistaken for a coherent and sustainable marketing strategy.
We insist that our world is increasingly complex, yet we have created a communications culture that has decreased the time available for us to sit and think uninterrupted.
As we flick from screen to screen, from nascent technology to emerging trend, the risk is that, on both a personal and professional level, we are being seduced by the promise of multitasking. The industry faces being calibrated by what technology proposes and makes easy: emails answered, texts replied to, "likes", tweets and click-through rates counted and boxes duly ticked. Marketers are at risk of skating on the surface of their consumers’ lives and reducing them to the flattened-out avatars of their social-media profiles.
It is a paradox best summed up by social psychologist Sherry Turkle, who writes in Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other: "We insist that our world is increasingly complex, yet we have created a communications culture that has decreased the time available for us to sit and think uninterrupted. As we communicate in ways that ask for almost instantaneous responses, we don’t allow sufficient space to consider complicated problems."
In this context, it’s all too easy to see how maintaining a true sense of purpose can now elude even the smartest marketer. Purpose requires a level of focus and commitment that cannot be measured by the blunt metrics of "likes" or tweets.
A world in which we glorify multitasking is a world in which we find ourselves forever in search of the next best thing, and put ourselves at risk of missing out on what is right in front of our eyes. Multitasking, instead of enhancing our experience or understanding of the world around us, depletes us all with its demands.