“There’s no such thing as multi-tasking – just doing lots of things badly. The correct term is multi-failing.”
Pete Brockman, Outnumbered
I multitask – or fail – frequently. I can accomplish a lot in a short time by overlapping undemanding or repetitive tasks such as talking on the phone, formatting a document, checking homework or cooking tea. But I’ve also had to re-write emails that were drafted when I was distracted by something else or agreed that the kids could do something the shouldn’t because I wasn’t focussed on the question. Also, as previously disclosed, doing anything and cooking must be approached with caution as it can go really wrong.
It depends on the thing, right? Big things like cuddling a child who’s fallen over or anything involving these symbols (+ – ÷ % x) demand one’s full attention.
What happens when we multitask the big things? I ran an experiment to see. (NB: There was only one individual in this cohort and the trial has not been independently verified, so any real researcher reading this can legitimately question and reject my findings).
Our church was set up for a whole night and day of continuous prayer. People signed up for one or two hour slots and had a range of creative ways to help them connect with God. Props included individual iPods preloaded with worship material, oversized scrabble tiles, a map of our local area, information about current world events, quotes from famous people – living and dead – about suffering, justice and the meaning of everything, and a collection of collage materials and PVA glue for those who wanted to make their prayers out of pom-poms and glitter.
It was the middle of the night and normal people were sleeping. No one else was in the building. The door was locked and I had the whole prayer space to myself. The kick-off room had a looped video of global demographics and poverty statistics framed against a cover version of Mad World. Quotes about freedom and imprisonment, IS and the fall of the Berlin Wall surrounded the screens. There is much suffering on this planet. But much hope, too. And triumph in the face of genuinely awful things. I remained in the room for six loops of the song and one cup of tea. I learned all the lyrics to Mad World without trying.
Moving into the main room, this prayer space was completely quiet and still and with the doors to the last area closed, Mad World could not get in. It didn’t remain quiet. With worship-to-go on an iPod and ear buds in, I sang, scribbled, glued and cried my way through several tracks, kneeling on the floor on top of our map, sticking song words around our town and colouring stuff in with Sharpie pens. The God songs were all I could hear. Singing the God songs was easy and natural. It was actually hard NOT to sing them.
Needing more tea, I went back into Mad World room to make another drink. I stopped in front of the screen and watched some of the looped video listening to the God song on the iPod rather than Gary Jules, which didn’t quite work. God songs speak of power and love and the bigness of God. The video reminded me our world is still broken and confusing and grossly unfair. Why isn’t God fixing it? What am I doing to fix it? How much worse can it get? I unplugged one ear and Mad World mingled together with the God song, which I was still singing.
It got harder to sing the God song.
Phase two of the trial. I had no control over the volume of Mad World – where do we keep the TV remote, anyway? But I did have control over the God song and turned the iPod volume down. My own voice suddenly sung out louder. This didn’t help.
I turned the God song down some more, but still kept on singing it. Man, this is hard. Mad World is now way too loud and it’s making me want to sing that rather than the God song I’ve already decided I want to sing.
Lower still – and I can only just hear the God song in my one plugged-in ear. And all around me there are worn out faces and places and pointless races and all kinds of screwed up things, which don’t speak of God’s greatness and sovereignty in a world of one per cent starvation, 14 per cent illiteracy and seven per cent computer ownership. I’m still singing the God song, but singing it badly. I keep missing the start of the lines and forgetting which note I’m aiming for. It’s a good job there’s no one else here.
Test concluded. We have enough material.
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with Mad World. Or any song that’s not the God Song.
We have the freedom to pursue activities that don’t reinforce the God Song or remind us to keep singing it. But focus on anything else for too long and the God song quickly fades. You miss the start of the lines. Other tunes mingle in with it and you don’t reach the right notes anymore.
Have at least one ear plugged in at all times.
Adjust your volume when you encounter interference.
Be aware of the Mad World and fight to change what you can wherever it is broken – but don’t be immersed in grief over it. Things won’t end this way.
Sing every day.
Sing with other people who also sing the God Song.
Especially those who harmonise.