The timelessness of multitasking – can you really?

I decided to put a few thoughts on paper tonight because I know it’s been a long long time since I’ve written, and I found something tonight that I feel is important to jot down.

It started with a book I am reading about cognition and how we think.  Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman posits that there are two systems at work in our brains, the intuitive “fast” one and the “slow” which deals with more complex thought.

I know that somewhere in the last six months or so I’ve read additional material about the “costs of multitasking” which in theory, sounds counter intuitive to what so many of us in the rapid moving society try to achieve.  As an example let’s consider the automobile and all of the tasks that people attempt to do while driving.  We talk on the phone, we check the GPS, we eat, some apply makeup, we look at maps,  we have our morning coffee, and may top it off with a fast food sandwich, congratulating ourselves about how much we are getting done.

Then you read how someone was texting “I Love You” before he ran over a buggy and killed three kids.

There is research  that says that what is really going on while we are thinking that we are multi-tasking is that we are really switching between tasks, and quite frequently between those that fall into the “fast” mode.  It also turns out that there is research that says that we can be up to 40% less efficient because of our task switching.

What I find most interesting about this concept is a quote that I found tonight while reading through translations of some first century Latin texts.  It happened to be that I was working on my quote library and was focused on a quote about friendship by Pubilius Syrus who lived in the first century BC.

This is what he wrote: Ad duo festinans neutrum bene peregeris.

This is how it was translated in 1856:  To do two things at once is to do neither.

There you have it.

In making this search I found a free copy of the Moral Sayings of Publius in Google Books, which consisted of only English translations.  I went looking for Latin version and found his sayings at  There was now only one problem, I can’t read Latin, and the Latin text provided no translation.

Next I used Google translate and put “two things” in to be translated into Latin.  Google Translate came back with “duo” as Latin for “two things”.  Next I searched the Latin text for the word duo and took the one that looked close and dumped it back into Google Translate.

GT then came back with: To the two made ​​haste, and, well, to be carried out neither of

To me, that seems close enough, especially since you can’t put the phrase back into Google and get an English translation of it.  The web has lots of variant translations of the Latin into German, or French or Russian, but no direct translations back from the Latin into English.

For the time being it looks like I’m stuck with the 1856 translation of D. Lyman.

To do two things at once is to do neither.

How curious that only now, some two thousand one hundred years later, we find out that it just might be the truth.

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