Hypertasking? No thank you.

If you Google the word "hypertasking" you get 1,800 hits. Even though "multitasking" has been around for years, hypertasking is still a relatively new word, so much so that the spell check on my computer doesn't recognize it.

According to UrbanDictionary.com hypertasking is multitasking to the Nth degree, managing a seemingly unmanageable set of tasks all at the same time. Like when you check your e-mail listening to Vivaldi on the radio and watching the news on TV while waiting for the pasta water to boil, nursing an infant, and nagging your older children to pick up toys.

Whew. Writing that sentence was enough to make me tired.

But the truth is that, in America anyway, hypertasking is taking over in our lives. I often feel like I'm trying to do 25 things at the same time, barely concentrating in my rush to finish what I'm doing in order to hurry to the next task to get where?

Well, I know for sure I'm heading to one place in particular, though I haven't decided where I'd like to be buried yet ("&

166; or should I be cremated? My friend Sue says being cremated is more environmentally conscious. She's already written a will, chosen a health care proxy, and read a bunch of books about death American-style. I want to do that too but I'm too busy hypertasking while cooking dinner).

With all the multimedia gadgets of the new millennium, now we have cell phones that are simultaneously cameras, palm pilots, Web browsers, e-mail programs and answering machines. We can listen to our phone messages and eat dinner at the same time, without ever leaving the table.

This isn't a case of catching up on some reading on the john. It's a full-fledged onslaught on our focus, our activities, and our emotions. With attention deficient disorders on the rise among children and adults, what I'd like to know is: Is hypertasking good for you?

Health experts and scientific researchers all answer unanimously: No.

Not only is multitasking bad for your health &

it raises stress levels, which are associated with a rise in stress hormones, which in turn are responsible for a host of health problems including insomnia, weight gain, and an increased likelihood for cardiovascular disease &

it's inefficient.

You probably remember the publicity surrounding the study in the "Journal of Experimental Psychology" that showed that switching between two tasks at once actually makes it harder to efficiently complete either. In four experiments with young adults of different ages, researchers had subjects do tasks of varying difficulty and familiarity, like solving math problems and classifying geometric objects. For all types of tasks, it was found that subjects lost time when they had to switch from one to another (though familiar tasks were accomplished in less time than unfamiliar tasks).

David Meyer, a co-author of the study and researcher at the University of Michigan, called multitasking "a serious health risk."

It's also unsafe. New York state and Washington, D.C. have passed ordinances making it illegal for people to talk on the phone while operating moving vehicles because drivers on cell phones are much more likely to get into automobile accidents. Duh.

If you're not convinced, consider this: hypertasking makes you fat. One survey found over 60 percent of Americans say they're too busy to sit down to eat, and that nine out of 10 report doing other things while preparing meals. A vast majority of Americans watch TV while eating meals at home and 35 percent eat lunch at their desk doing something else &

like making phone calls or cleaning their workspace. When people eat quickly with their mind elsewhere they don't pay attention to calories or the quality of the food. Some researchers believe that so many Americans are overweight because of this hypertasking trend.

The pasta water boils. I close my computer, shut off the TV and the radio. I try not to let my mind water as I stir the spaghetti into the swirling water and breathe. For a second it feels ridiculous but then my shoulders relax as they haven't all day. It's a struggle not to do it but I'd like to buck the trend. Hypertasking? No thank you.

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