Thursday, 22 May 2008

Is multitasking a myth?

I recently read an article in The Australian by Ruth Ostrow about the need to slow down, that we are leading busier lives and need to "flick the off button."

She quotes research by Hewlett-Packard that shows that IQ falls by 10 points when people multitask or get distracted by electronic communications, which is the "equivalent to smoking a joint or not sleeping for 35 hours."

Harvard lecturer Tal Ben-Sharar, who was in Australia for a Happiness and its Causes conference in Sydney believes most people suffer from what he calls TBD (Too Busy Disorder). Rostrow's article goes on to say that Ben-Sharar described a controlled experiment that showed the majority of participants felt "overwhelmed" by the things they needed to do, half of them to the point of feeling depressed.

"People today are chronically busy and then they front up to therapists, asking: 'why am I not happy? I have a wonderful family, great work, friends? they are suffering TBD."

In another reference Ostrow refers to Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz's book The Power of Full Engagement, which discusses being completely present as the way towards productivity. They suggest 'working in focused spurts ... as opposed to doing marathons that exhaust us. ... we take pride in our ability to multitask and wear our ability to put in long hours as a badge of honour. As a result, we never have full attention or peak energy.'

Is multitasking is a myth

As often happens when you begin thinking about a topic such as multitasking a serendipitous connection occurs. In my case it was coming across a blog about multitasking by John Medina.

Here's what he says in his opening paragraph:

Multitasking, when it comes to paying attention, is a myth. The brain naturally focuses on concepts sequentially, one at a time. At first that might sound confusing; at one level the brain does multitask. You can walk and talk at the same time. Your brain controls your heartbeat while you read a book. Pianists can play a piece with left hand and right hand simultaneously. Surely this is multitasking. But I am talking about the brain’s ability to pay attention. It is the resource you forcibly deploy while trying to listen to a boring lecture at school. It is the activity that collapses as your brain wanders during a tedious presentation at work. This attentional ability is not capable of multitasking.

Students often claim that they can do more than one thing at a time but the evidence that the brain focuses sequentially one concept at a time should give us reason to think about the overstimulation that kids experience.

But more of this later, after I've had time to let the ideas wash around my brain and then, to paraphrase E.M Forster, write another blog post to find out what I think.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

i'll have to re-read that. something good came on tele.