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Ramble On

The Origins and History of Multi-Tasking

Posted by bigceebee on June 15, 2011 at 7:54 AM

In the fast-paced world in which we live, we are all familiar with multi-tasking and most of us practice it daily, by choice or by obligation and eventually, by habit. But where did multi-tasking originate and how has it evolved over time? These are the questions I will answer for you in this blog post and, worry not, as I do so, I will also be doing other stuff.


Though it cannot be ascertained with complete certainty, it is believed that multi-tasking was invented, quite accidentally, by Daedalus of Greek Mythology fame. According to records, this occurred when Daedalus and his son, Icarus, were being held captive by King Minos of Crete in a high tower. Surrounded by insurmountable walls, all they could see were large birds circling overhead as they waited for the two men’s demise. Always the planner, Daedalus decided to kill some of the birds by throwing stones in hopes of gathering enough feathers to make artificial wings to fly to their freedom. One of his throws hit a bird, ricocheted off it and hit another and both plummeted dead to his feet. Thus was born multi-tasking and the popular idiom, “two birds with one stone”.


Following Daedalus’ accidental discovery, the concept of multi-tasking was studied and contemplated over the centuries but most people considered it akin to tomfoolery, witchcraft and, in some instances, devil-worship so it never caught on.


It was not until World War I that multi-tasking resurfaced, once again in a totally unplanned fashion. The U.S. military had taken to supplying its soldiers with chewing gum as it seemed to improve their concentration and relieve stress. After several weeks, someone noticed that the soldiers were walking and chewing gum at the same time. A team of leading psychologists, anthropologists and historians was quickly assembled and following several months of observation and testing, it was confirmed that the soldiers were, in fact, multi-tasking. This quickly led to other forms of the activity such as troop commanders barking orders while marching as well as talking while eating in the mess hall.


With the success of multi-tasking in the military, governments started encouraging their civilian populations to try their hands at it as well, though many members of the public remained wary. However the growing popularity of televisions in the late 1940s coupled with the invention of TV dinners in 1953 is recognized as the breakthrough for multi-tasking amongst the general public.


Since, multi-tasking has become commonplace; chatting over coffee, working through lunch, and whistling while one works are just but a few examples which come to mind. Technological advances have vastly enhanced multi-tasking where someone can now chat on the phone and surf the internet all while ordering a pizza online and taking photos.

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Reply Lisa @FlashFiction
08:23 AM on June 15, 2011 
I intend to find my high school teacher immediately and demand to know why these unassailable facts were NOT taught with the curriculum. I knew there was something missing from my edoocation. I was also never taught to multitask. Therefore, I have never been able to manage texting and driving at the same time, something which everyone else seems able to do (with varying success).
Reply Kathleen DeCosmo
08:35 AM on June 15, 2011 
Keep the Blogs coming! I love being finding out the origins of things. Thanks Claude
Reply ericbt
08:36 AM on June 15, 2011 
Yeah, multi-tasking is fine, as long as it doesn't involve cell phones and driving.
Reply Kay
10:55 AM on June 15, 2011 
What? sorry I wasn't paying attention, but I'm sure I loved your blog.
Reply Nils @TheRedThingLtd
04:35 PM on June 15, 2011 
Sorry I was laughing so hard reading this, awesome, probably you got me to buy your book now that it is just 99c for getting it!

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