The art of puttering
In our hypermediated age, there is much talk of multitasking. Multitaskers come equipped with Internet connections and attempt to engage several tasks with their keyboards, televisions and music players. The multitasker is marked by flitting, fractured attention and a sustained sense of urgency. Since multitasking is mediated by communication devices, it concentrates on the virtual world rather than the physical world surrounding the multitasker.
An older but not entirely lost practice is known as puttering. I know puttering is not a lost art because my spouse, Sandy, and some friends engage in it regularly. Sandy, as an expert putterer, will start a load of wash, then grade some papers (she is a teacher), check her e-mail, do some dusting, then pay some bills. Puttering differs from multitasking in that most of it is grounded in the actual, physical world. Puttering is also marked by a gentle, even leisurely rhythm; it involves moving back and forth from one chore to another at a sedate pace. Puttering, unlike multitasking, is not marked by a sense of urgency. Puttering allows for breaks in the work, for a cup of coffee or even a burst of play.
My father-in-law was also an accomplished putterer. I remember him working on car engines, seeing to his farm animals and often stopping to play with cats. My own father was not as comfortable with puttering, but I remember that we puttered at our farm chores. Fill the milk cow’s feed box, clean a stall, feed the horse, call in the cow for milking—it all happened at the relaxed pace of the animals themselves.