mdlbear: the positively imaginary half of a cubic mandelbrot set (Default)
[personal profile] mdlbear

I can't multitask. This isn't a matter of choice -- my poor bearlike brain is simply incapable of paying proper attention to more than one thing at a time. This means that, if I'm paying attention to something like not bumping into the car in front of me, I am not paying attention to you. Yes, I know it's a problem, and yes, I know it drives you crazy, but I can't help it!

Recent events have also proved conclusively that this problem renders me almost completely incapable of delivering a timely verbal warning. I may repeat your name, or repeat a word like "no" or "stop" half-a-dozen times, but I will not be capable of thinking up a timely and helpful phrase that will keep you from doing whatever stupid or dangerous thing I see you doing. Luckily, nobody has died or been seriously injured as a result, but if you hear me babbling for goodness' sake stop what you're doing and make sure you're not in danger, because I won't be able to tell you what the problem is. I'm not coherent or rational at that point.

When I was trying to teach someone to drive, I wasn't able to tell her that she was turning far too sharply, and wasn't able to tell her to stop. Luckily, she hit a bush rather than a pedestrian or a brick wall, both of which were in the vicinity. When somebody decided to get out of my car when I was stopped at a red light rather than waiting until I could turn onto a side street and pull over safely, I wasn't able to tell her that the light was about to change -- I could only babble "no-no-no" in shocked surprise. The light did change, when she was halfway out of the car. If I had been even a little bit distracted, or if the driver behind me had honked their horn at the wrong moment, or if my foot had slipped on the brake pedal, I could easily have started moving at that point. DON'T FUCKING DO THAT!!!

Don't assume that I'm paying attention to what you're saying when I'm in another room, or when I'm driving, or when I'm reading or talking to somebody else. Don't assume that I can hear you at all, or that it will register in my poor confused brain if I do hear you. Get my attention, and watch me to make sure I haven't concluded that your long pause meant that you were finished and I've gone back to what I was doing. Don't assume, if I don't follow your excellent directions, that I'm merely stupid. I may have seen something you didn't, or I may simply be trying to get into a situation where there are fewer distractions so that I don't do something stupid. Or I may be hopelessly confused, and be operating off some incorrect assumption that causes me to totally misinterpret what you're saying. Sorry about that. It's not your fault, really.

Hopefully, the only person I kill when I'm distracted for the last time will be myself, but I don't have a whole lot of hope. Please pay attention when you're around me, and please cut me a little slack. Yelling at me or arguing with me will only make things worse.

That concludes today's public service announcement. We now return you to your regularly scheduled friends list. Have a nice day.

Date: 2006-09-18 03:57 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
Interesting. I thought [livejournal.com profile] jenkitty was the only uniprocessor carbon-based unit I know. [livejournal.com profile] cflute and I are both dual-processor; we can keep two or maybe three processes in the air at once. I've heard rumors of folks that can keep like eight chess games going at master level.... but, yeah. It's unusual among fen to find a single-core brain, but not unheard of. The upside of it is that said brains are usually *damn* high on the gigahertz... present company apparently included. :)

Date: 2006-09-18 04:28 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mdlbear.livejournal.com
I think it's more common among people of my generation -- we were brought up to do our homework with the radio/TV off, for example. There's probably a big cultural component as well as a cognitive one. It may also be what's now called Asperger's Syndrome; it includes an attention component.

Date: 2006-09-18 05:32 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
I disagree. I was never allowed to have radio or TV on when I did homework... Still prefer it quiet when I code. And, yet.... multitaskers'r'Us...

Date: 2006-09-18 05:49 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mdlbear.livejournal.com
Probably some of each -- nurture and nature.

I can sometimes read or code when something else is going on, but whatever it is I won't notice it. I may even nod my head when you say something to me, but half an hour later I won't remember it at all.

Date: 2006-09-18 05:33 am (UTC)
ext_3294: Tux (Default)
From: [identity profile] technoshaman.livejournal.com
Although, a lot of the time it's like I'm a hyperthreaded Xeon. I can do two things at once, but certain processes require my undivided attention... it's as if I've only got one floating point unit or something...

Date: 2006-09-18 06:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] drewkitty.livejournal.com
I know several people who are single-taskers. Usually they are quite brilliant. Sometimes this brilliance is applied in such a way that everyone can recognize it -- as is true here. Sadly, sometimes the brilliance is so mis-mapped that the person appears to be the opposite of brilliant, the classic "brains but no common sense" stereotype in fandom and high-tech industry.

I actively seek out among my team people who have any potential or actual skill as multi-taskers, because I have many slots that require such. Developing the multi-tasking skill is very much a "learn by doing" endeavor, with mistakes unpunished but immediately corrected. (Excessive or punitive correction can cause people to reject multi-tasking or even 'freeze up' for fear of punishment, etc.)

>> The upside of it is that said brains are usually *damn* high on the gigahertz... present company apparently included. :)

I have dealt with a number of serious crises caused by a single processor brain running from an improperly sorted task list, ranging from lost laptops and keys up through and including life-threatening medical emergencies.

There are a number of simple life adaptations that most single-taskers make (including an injunction against unnecessary interrupts) that allow them to function adequately in an increasingly hostile world.

By far the most important is a presorted task list, on which "driving" and "operate cutting tools" and "resolve possible medical crisis" appear near the very top.

Minimizing unnecessary input, especially in situations which may endanger life or property, is common to all persons who do work that requires concentration. However, a single-track person utterly depends on the cooperation of others to minimize input -- and may not have enough left over to do anything but growl, mutter, or babble syllables. A codeword used to ask others to hold, such as "Give me a second" or "Hold that thought" or even (at worst) "Shut up" might be very useful -- necessarily followed by explanation and/or apology once the momentary crisis has past.

Filtering would be extremely helpful if one had enough processor to run the input filter and run the high-priority task at the same time. It's not a lack of power; it's a lack of swap time.

A interrupt codeword that can be used in the event of recognizing an emergency (other than the pilot's stereotypical "oh s&*t!") could be helpful in this situation, too, if others agreed to learn and respect it.

Y'know, since the lawsuit

Date: 2006-09-18 06:05 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] capplor.livejournal.com
for running my father's car into another car at age 18, I've learned to keep out of "full-concentration" mode.

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