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by Newt Harlan

I’ve noticed a new word being used quite often in conversations lately. Of course, the word has probably been in use for some time, but it’s pretty new to me. The word is “multitasking,” and it was originally a computer term which, like so many other technical terms, lately has crossed over into everyday use.

Here’s how the dictionary defines "multitasking": n. The concurrent operation by one central processing unit of two or more processes.

I assume that when this definition is applied to humans instead of computers, the brain is the central processing unit and the things that we are doing are the two or more processes…like walking and chewing gum at the same time.

To hear folks talk, there must be a bunch of them who are pretty good at this multitasking. Probably the original multitaskers in the business world, as I know it, are the receptionists. They can answer the phone, type a letter, greet visitors and sort the mail, all the while talking on the phone to a friend about last night’s date or this coming weekend’s party.

I couldn’t do that. In fact, when you get very far past the walking and chewing gum at the same time stage, I’m not much good at multitasking whatsoever. I don’t even chew gum very often anymore.

That’s not to say I haven’t tried multitasking. Back when I was spending a lot of time on the road, I did a pretty good job of listening to the radio while driving and even maintaining the speed limit before we had cruise control. Well, this isn’t quite the truth. I pretty much had to listen to news and talk shows because if I listened to music, the faster the music played, the faster my car went. Even after I changed over to the news/talk format, I got to concentrating too much on the talk and missed a few (bunch of) exits and had to turn around and go back.

My next multitasking challenge came when I had a car phone installed in my company car. I’d been looking forward to this for several years because it meant I wouldn’t have to hunt down a phone when I needed to make a call. I could be driving down the road and just reach over and dial up the person I wanted to call. Wrong. Trying to turn down the radio and remember or look up a number and drive and dial the number and talk and drive…you get the idea. This was entirely too much multitasking for me and I had to be very careful or I’d drift over into the lane with the car beside me or slow down to about 40 on the freeway or look up to find I was driving around 90. Even incoming calls were enough distraction to make me scare the shit out of myself a couple of times. It didn’t take me long to learn it was best to pull over and stop in a safe place when using the phone…I still do.

Apparently there are folks who can, or at least think they can, multitask pretty well while driving. You see people doing all kinds of things while tooling down the road. In my travels, I’ve observed young (and not-so-young) girls applying make-up and talking on the phone…I’d jab my damned eye out if I tried that…men shaving, people reading and doing crossword puzzles, many folks eating and drinking, people participating in various sexual activities that I’d best not describe further to a mixed audience, and probably just about everything else you can imagine being done while driving a car or truck.

I think I observed the greatest example of multitasking in a vehicle several years ago as I was driving on I-10 between Lafayette and Baton Rouge on the section we used to call the “Atchafalaya Swamp Speedway.” I was going around 80 and I looked in my rearview mirror and saw a car coming up fast behind me. I looked over as he pulled alongside and, I swear this is the truth, he was talking on a cell phone, with a newspaper spread across his steering wheel and a portable TV playing on the dashboard in front of him, all the while driving about 110. It didn’t take long for him to get out of sight, and for the rest of the way to Baton Rouge I kept expecting to come upon a big-assed wreck or at least find that he’d run off the road into the swamp -- but I never saw him again.

Everyone does multitasking of one kind or another during the course of a day; I’m sure there are some of you who are more into it than the rest of us, like those of you working on computers all day, or musicians, or doctors, or school teachers. School teachers have to be among the best, trying to teach something to 15 or 20 some odd of those little angels while acting as a jailer, baby sitter, surrogate mommy, nurse and referee, plus a half hundred other things.

While writing this, I decided to have one more try at multitasking. Y’all know how you can get radio broadcasts from the Internet? Well, I punched up one of my favorite talk shows with the intention of listening to it as I wrote this. Didn’t work. Either I’d quit writing and listen or write and quit listening. It’s painfully obvious that my central processing unit is incapable of multitasking at this point. Perhaps I need to run a disc scan, or maybe do something to get rid of all those superfluous bits of information floating around on my hard drive before it crashes…a cold beer might not be a bad idea.


Newt tells us about himself:

I was born, raised and educated in Texas. With the exception of a few brief sojourns and the 4 years during the Vietnam Era that I spent riding around on airplanes courtesy of the U.S. Air Force, I've spent the more than 65 years of my life within spittin’ distance of the place where I grew up. I managed to cram a four-year college degree into nine years and by virtue of that remarkable feat, I am a former student of six different schools, which sure helps the odds of rooting for a winner in sporting events. The academic standards committee had a moment of weakness and I was the fortunate recipient of a degree from Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas.

I'm Southern to the bone. The sound of “Dixie” being played gives me goose bumps and I stand and remove my hat. My yard dog, B.J., controls the squirrels, cats, meter readers and peddlers around my place. I’ve picked cotton by hand, plowed behind a mule, churned butter, shelled back-eyed peas, and for the first 12 years of my life, went without shoes from April until October. Several of my friends regularly hold conversations with mules, but as of yet I can’t get the danged mules to answer me. I think grits are as much a part of breakfast as bacon, eggs and cathead biscuits. I think ain’t is a perfectly good word and don’t plan to quit using it just because some damnyankee dictionary writer arbitrarily thinks it ain’t.

I've been married for 30-some odd years and have beaucoup kids and grandkids. I'm now retired after having spent the better part of the past 37 years traveling around Texas, Louisiana, and the Gulf Coast areas of Mississippi and Alabama, trying to sell steel products. My hobbies, in no particular order, include writing, grandkids, hunting, fishing and visiting the local watering hole to swap honest lies and research material for stories.

E-mail Newt at: Newt281@embarqmail.com

Want to read more of Newt’s stories at USADEEPSOUTH? Click these links:
Ol’ Red and the Armadillo
Juicing Bovines
Telephones and memories
Tastes like chicken
That's Entertainment . . . '50s Style
Railroad Fireman
Curing Colds
Belly Waddin' Lunch


Read many more great stories listed on our USADS Articles pages.


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