Multitaskers Still Unable to Multitask Well

Multi-tasking testMatt Richtel at The New York Times wrote a piece a couple of weeks ago called, “Hooked on Gadgets, and Paying a Mental Price“. He profiled the Campbell family, who live outside of San Francisco, to demonstrate the toll the constant barrage of data via smartphones, computers, and the iPad, takes on both individuals and the family unit. Each family member cannot pay attention to what is going on around them in the present, either with tasks at hand or with other family members who are physically present. They all have a hard time unplugging, even on vacation. Each of them pays a price. The children, with their school work and grades. The adults, with the quality of their work output.

The author examined the scientific research behind high- and low-multitasking. The gist of it is that research results indicate that high multitaskers score low on attention and memory. The author writes: “While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting out irrelevant information, scientists say, and they experience more stress.” As well, “…scientists are discovering that even after the multitasking ends, fractured thinking and lack of focus persist. In other words, this is also your brain off computers.”

Scientists believe our brains our being re-wired by technology, but they aren’t sure how, and if our brains are being rewired, whether or not that is good for us or bad for us as a species.

The good news regarding our brain rewiring is that, “imaging studies show the brains of Internet users become more efficient at finding information. And players of some video games develop better visual acuity.”

Apparently, only 3% of the population are “super-taskers” that can handle multiple information streams well. I long ago put myself in the corral of low multitaskers. I limit my distractions, or I cannot concentrate on the task at hand, whether that is research or baking cookies. The article includes two tests to gauge your level of concentration & focus, as well as how well you juggle tasks. I have focus and concentration, but I am also a “low multitasker”.

While these results aren’t new, I still find them a nice reinforcement of my own mode of working. I prefer to concentrate on thing at at time, and unplug from technology when I can. I do find my concentration and thinking abilities improve when I simply shut off Skype, email, etc., and concentrate on my work for a set period of time. To me, it is the same as shutting your office door to focus on work. As for the Campbells, in my opinion, they need to lock up their technology and take a break from it all!

What do you think about multitasking? Are you more or less efficient with multiple distractions around you? Do you take breaks from technology, or are you always on?

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