Tuesday, August 09, 2011

so you think you can multitask???

When Deresiewicz looks at the research around multitasking, things become interesting,

“A team of researchers at Stanford wanted to figure out how today’s college students were able to multitask so much more effectively than adults. How do they manage to do it? The answer — they don’t. The enhanced cognitive abilities the investigators expected to find .. were simply not there. In other words, people do not multitask effectively. And here’s the really surprising finding: The more people multitask, the worse they are not just at other mental abilities, but at multitasking itself.

The researchers found that multitaskers are worse at every kind of cognitive function. “They were worse at distinguishing between relevant and irrelevant information.. they were more easily distracted. They were more unorganized, unable to keep information in the right conceptual boxes and retrieve it quickly. And they were even worse at the very thing that defines multitasking: switching between tasks.”

Deresiewicz continues, “Multitasking, in short, impairs your ability to think. Thinking.. requires concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea of your own… My first thought is never my best thought. My first thought is always someone else’s..

From here Deresiewicz goes on to talk about concentration, attention and the importance of solitude...


Bill L. said...

The amazing thing to me is that across the various disciplines of life this conclusion is not completely accepted as accurate from nothing more profound than the anecdotal evidence provided by work and general life. Perhaps Proverbs recorded the reality correctly: wisdom and honesty are truly rare commodities.
I know that in my own life this is certainly true. Perhaps more pointedly, I have occasionally suspected if I were more honest about the "how" of some sinful things I have given into, I would quite deliberately run from multitasking.
Extreme business, distraction, and habitual oversight are all close relatives and multitasking is the often the breast at which they nurse. Our fallen-human propensity to excuse ourselves is heartily aided with such pitiful "reasons," and besides, it is far too convenient.

Anonymous said...

I read about Deresiewicz's findings a few years ago in the Atlantic Journal. It resonated with me then, and it resonates with me now. Personally, I don't think we should even call it "multitasking", we should call it "mental bouncing".

The ideas in this post coupled with the last post ('what the internet is doing to our brains') have led me to a fairly simple conclusion.

I feel, as I grow older, I need to know fewer things with certainty, but I need to know those things more deeply and with greater commitment.

Thanks for the reminder.

Randy Hein

murray said...

Thank you Bill and Randy for stopping by and thinking about these things with me. I actually put theses articles on my wall on Facebook but, Facebook being Facebook, they were ignored. (However I will continue to try and bring stuff like that in there.) I did appeal for people to balance their internet time with reading a real book - balancing their mp3 time by going to live concerts or learning to play a musical instrument themselves - and one young woman did stop by to give that comment a thumbs up. But from what you both are saying, the virtual world and its technologies are against contemplation, depth, solitude, thought and taking time to be. Which is a scary thing since many humans on earth are hurtling in that anti-human direction.

EMP said...

"From here Deresiewicz goes on to talk about concentration, attention and the importance of solitude..."

Although I have missed reading blogs such as yours (!) on a daily basis--you know by now how much I enjoy your thoughts, MP--I have used this past season of pneumonia and one or two other setbacks as a healthy time to withdraw into stillness. I said when I turned 40 this would be my "year of the hermit"; little did I know what it would take!

But the more I read posts like yours, the surer I am: we need to be still. And know.

Thanks for your beautiful influence in the world.

Bill L. said...

I have an opinion, one that may not be terribly well received, and one I profoundly hope is wrong, but, it seems to me that one of the most sickening and terrifying aspects to life expended in the "modern" world (the electronic culture giving the appearance of relationship without the reality) is the near total degradation of language. For instance look at the street-level connotation of these words and how their depth of meaning has changed over the past couple hundred years; i.e., "feel," "hate," "like," "need," and in my opinion the greatest three works (and workers) of destruction of all -- "love," and "friend," and "friendship."
We, the human race in general, appear to be moving forward at breakneck speed breeding and allowing to mature unchecked successive generations of monsters... emotional and spiritual monsters.
God help everyone when such people develop a "need" for that which is rightfully another's.