Media Ethics and Checkbook Journalism
Best Criminal Law Blog Post of 2009

Fifteen Minutes

Law is not quantum physics, but nonetheless requires some heavy lifting.  Why then do lawyers check e-mail and phone messages constantly?  

In a recent study, a group of Microsoft workers took, on average, 15 minutes to return to serious mental tasks, like writing reports or computer code, after responding to incoming e-mail or instant messages. They strayed off to reply to other messages or browse news, sports or entertainment Web sites.

Yes, multi-tasking is a myth.  Why does the myth persist?  Like all myths, multi-tasking lives on because it's personally comforting, and expressive of wider culture.

Hard work is hard.  It's comforting to think we're working hard, without actually exerting ourselves.  Switching back-and-forth between mindless tasks to real work makes us feel productive without actually getting the headaches that accompany actual work.  We have a personal incentive for believing in the myth of multi-tasking.  As narcissists, we can have the self-image of a productive worker without the productivity.

Multi-tasking also exists because of social pressures.  

When doing serious legal writing, I disable e-mail notification; shut down IM; and do not answer my phone.  Aside from better work product, I create angry people.  

In a society of narcissists, "checking out" is rude.  How dare you not be present when I beckon you?!  How dare you not eat lunch with everyone else?  Do you think you're above that?  What are you, anti-social?  

It is, of course, possible to like the same people that you ignore.  Want to take a walk in the park/grab a cigar/hit the gym to talk about life?  Sure.  Just leave me alone while I work.  And don't talk to me during my sets.

In a world of narcissism, every petty tyrant feels entitled to access you.  Multi-tasking gives them the intellectual justification to impose upon your time.  Often the idiots will mockingly say, "What?!  You can't do two things at once?"  Well, of course I can't; and neither can you - at least if you want to play a level above pee-wee league baseball.

I don't make New Year's Resolutions.  I do, however, reflect on the prior year.  In 2009, I spent too much time distracted.  It's time to cull the blog subscriptions, turn the cell phone off, and stop reading newspaper articles about world events that I don't shape.  

Before one is able to check in, he must first check out.

Happy New Year.