i ran across the article “The Autumn of the Multitaskers” by Walter Kirn yesterday (i forgot via which of the 100 or so feeds i have subscribed to in my NetNewsWire — which i guess goes to prove the point), and — on top of being a very interesting and entertaining read — i found it to resonate well with my own experiences of where we’re headed in our always-connected, always-reachable and always-up-to-date society. We check emails 358 times a day, to the extend that it stops us from getting real work done. We carry cell phones and PDAs to keep us in touch with “what’s going on” 24/7.

this goes to the extent that nowadays you can no longer meet up with friends without relying on your cell for last-minute scheduling, or people needing their navigation to find the restaurant three blocks down from their home. Whatever was wrong with “let’s meet at 8” and everyone simply showing up on time? It worked for generation after generation of people.

i used tho think that this new “always on” world was great. i was among the first of my peers to get a cell phone (back when, as Kurt Vonnegut so aptly put it in one of his last interviews, using a cell phone in public still made you look like a moron*). i’ve owned more PDAs and Smart Phones than i can count (starting with what was one of the first Pocket PCs, the awesome CASIO Cassiopeia E10, and finishing with an iMate Jasjar, bought after i swore off from buying more PDAs but getting it anyways because the $100 offer at PDC’05 was just too good to not accept, and retired last year).

now-adays, i don’t even carry my cell phone with me, except say when traveling abroad. because — guess what: when i’m going to the movies or out to dinner, i don’t want to hear from you, nor do i need to delete the latest 5 spam emails, right this second. i just wanna have my peace and enjoy the film or the food.

between switching to the Mac and waiting for Office 2008 for proper Exchange support, i am currently running Outlook in a VM to read my email. for the first day or so, it was an annoyance, having to keep the VM running to access my emails. but now i boot it up a couple times a day, check and process mails, and then shut down and forget about it — and it’s such a time saver, not constantly checking your inbox.

a similar point might be made about Instant Messaging. with RemObjects Software being a company where people are spread all across the globe, naturally IM plays an important role, with a shared channel on our own Jobber server acting as the communication hub, but lots of private chats going on between individual developers all the time. it is difficult to find the right balance between being reasonably responsive to IM requests, but at the same time getting work done without derailing your train of thoughts by yet another message. Running the development VM in full screen mode (covering the Dock) or tools like the excellent WriteRoom i blogged about before help, but still it is hard to resist the urge to Ctrl+Up to the other space in case one missed an IM…

to cut a short story long, i guess the point is that sometimes less is more, and maybe we’d all do well in trying to not spread ourselves too thin between all the difference inputs competing for our attention — and we might actually get more done, by trying to do a little less.

*Vonnegut, of course, had his own view of what this said about the masses of people that use their cell phone in public *today* ;)