GK Chesterton on Distraction and Multi-tasking

In his short essay "On the Prison of Jazz" published in Selected Essays (Collins, 1939), G.K. Chesterton makes some comments entirely relevant to multi-tasking and distraction. His primary topic is the inability to hold a conversation in a restaurant while there is live music, namely jazz: "But talking to people who are listening to something else which is not the talk is a sort of complex or nexus of futility." Considering he lived in a non-digital age, his comments on distraction and doing two things at once are strikingly and even more worthy of consideration.

"For, though we talk lightly of doing this or that to distract the mind, it remains really as well as verbally true that to be distracted it to be distraught. The original Latin word does not mean relaxation; it means being torn asunder as by wild horses. The original Greek word, which corresponds to it, is used in the text which says that Judas burst asunder in the midst. To think of one thing at a time is the best sort of thinking; but it is possible, in a sense, to think of two things at a time, if one of them is really subconscious and therefore really subordinate. But to deal with a second thing which by its very nature thrust itself more and more aggressively in front of the first thing is to find the very crux of psychological crucifixion. I have generally found that the refined English persons who think it idolatrous to contemplate a religious image, turn up next time full of delighted admiration of some Yogi or Esoteric Hindu who only contemplates his big toe. But at least he contemplates something, and does not have ten thousand brazen drums to encourage him to do it. He is so far a real philosopher, in spite of his philosophy. He does not try to do two incompatible things at once" (356-57).

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