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Monday, August 31, 2009

St. Paul: Multitasker?

Wired reports on a study that indicates that habitual multitasking hinders concentration, even when you are only doing one thing.

Was Paul a multi-tasker? If he were in the twenty-first century, would he have kept up with the latest RSS feeds from the Jerusalem Council, text-messaged Luke about his health problems, e-mailed Timothy, tweeted about the food available to him, posted photos of new converts on Facebook, phoned Lydia about the church in Macedonia, and listened to the radio, all while discussing theology and tent-making with Priscilla and Aquila? The obvious answer, of course, is that we don't know.

Multi-tasking is dangerous, at least sometimes. It's a very bad idea to be texting while driving, for example.

We do have a couple of indications about Paul. One of them is that he didn't write most of his letters himself -- he dictated them. It would be possible to dictate tweets and e-mails, but very few people do that. (We have a four-year-old grandson who does it occasionally.) So maybe Paul wasn't concerned about font size, style, and color, just about the message. Perhaps this indicates that he wasn't a multi-tasker. (I know -- maybe he was doing something else while his scribe was writing what he had dictated, and he was a multi-tasker.)

There's another indication, more to the point for you and me. In Philippians 3:8-11, Paul sets forth his one single goal -- to know Christ:
8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (ESV, as are any other scripture quotations in this post.)
Everything else is as dead as last month's tweets.

He goes on: 13b But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Emphasis added)

I'm not saying that it's wrong to grade papers during faculty meeting, or text someone during church board meeting, or read the paper while your spouse is talking, but there are dangers in trying to do more than one thing at a time, and they aren't all about losing control of an automobile. May I have one goal in mind -- to know Christ, and follow his call.

See here for a related post.

Thanks for reading.

3 comments:

George said...

According to my mental image of Paul's personality, if Paul had access to the tools of technology, I believe he would embrace the concept of multitasking and would have recommended it to others in one of his letters. But that statement makes me wonder whether multitasking is more a result of our high tech culture than it is an inherent human trait. Of course, women are excluded, because I believe God instilled in them a natural ability to multitask due to the demands of motherhood.

superrustyfly said...

"Everything else is as dead as last month's tweets."

That might have made my morning.

Martin LaBar said...

Thanks, guys.

George, I'm guessing that it's the result of our high tech culture. People in other cultures, or cultures of the past, seem to have been much better able to remember long narratives verbatim than we are, which, if true, indicates that there are cultural influences on how we think, or on the tools we use to help us think and communicate.

superrustyfly, I admit that I liked that sentence myself.

Thanks.