Growing up, my parents used to send my siblings and me off to Oshkosh, Wis. (Yes ,Some of my fondest memories are from those fun-filled, carefree days that, more often than not, began with a bowl of cereal. Each morning, we'd climb out of bed at random hours, meander down to the kitchen, and there they'd be—those individual-sized boxes of cereal (the ones that made you feel pretty special ... as if they were made just for you) all lined up with a stack of bowls and a tray of some type of pastries or doughnuts next to them.
I'd select my box (usually Corn Pops), pour the milk, chit-chat with my Grandma (assuring her that, indeed, I had slept well), and then I'd sit there, eating my cereal, alternating between eating, listening to Gran and reading the box—the front, the back, and even the sides with the nutritional information on it. If you were the last one up, chances were, the pickins were slim and the milk had been put away, but nevertheless, the magical start to each morning was yours to be had.
Given this particular rearing, I was particularly disheartened to see the latest TV commercials touting Milk 'n Cereal Bars from General Mills. If you haven't seen them, picture this: A father—trying in vain to slide on his overcoat while putting papers into his briefcase—rushes his son out the door apparently heading to the car to drop the boy off at school. Passing through the kitchen, he blows a kiss and a smile mom's way as she hurriedly tosses a spiraling bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios (including milk; not a drop spills) at the happy pair. Upon reception, the bowl miraculously turns into a Milk 'n Cereal Bar and off the two trot happily ever after, having shaved a few precious moments from the morning's hustle and bustle.
Forget, for a moment, the fact that these cereal-to-go bars have about as much nutritional value as a Peep. What really irks me is seeing what I believe to be a time-honored tradition fall prey to fast-paced, multitasking madness that we call life.
Ironically enough, I decided to write this month's column on multitasking well over a week ago, and here I sit, a day before this issue has to leave, furiously trying to string my thoughts together. You deserve better. Heck, my thoughts deserve better. Some would call this procrastination; I call it multitasking. Unfortunately, the multiple tasks that I've managed to juggle over the last week have taken priority. In between a thousand stops and starts, I've finished an untold amount of projects, fielded calls, responded to e-mails, edited copy, put out fires, and so on. Hold on a second while I check my inbox—Lotus Notes just flashed me, and I'm expecting an important answer on a research project, so I better check.
The research project's a go. I'll have to develop the actual instrument today and figure out the best way to send it. Where was I? Oh yeah, multitasking. Hold on a sec while I check my AP Stylebook to see if multitasking should be hyphenated. Couldn't find my stylebook, so I went online. It shouldn't be hyphenated. While I was online, I quickly searched our archives to see when the last time was that we did this type of research. Five years ago—perfect; it'll make for great follow-up. Back at it: What else has fallen prey to our propensity to fit more into our day?
We have the best-selling One-Minute Bedtime Stories series of children's books. The "8-Minute Total Body Workout" video series. What's next? The 30-second reusable learning object? Oh, scratch that, we already have those. Good thing, too, since I'm almost out of room and time.
These "instant" solutions, designed to get us somewhere else in a hurry, have serious social undertones and are, in fact, eroding one of the most effective learning experiences of all—people interacting with people ... whether it's over a book or over breakfast.