The Autumn of the Multitaskers

The Autumn of the Multitaskers

To do two things at once is to do neither. —Publilius Syrus, Roman slave, first century B.C.

Neuroscience is confirming what we all suspect: Multitasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy. One man’s odyssey through the nightmare of infinite connectivity.

Interesting article by Walter Kirn. It confirms what I always thought: it is not possible to multitask. At least not if the tasks use the same part of the brain. Some tasks are boring, but have to be done. Like washing the dishes, ironing my shirts. I combine them with listening to music of watching news on TV.

I think your suggestion is, Can we do two things at once? Well, we’re of the view that we can walk and chew gum at the same time.
—Richard Armitage, deputy secretary of state, on the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, June 2, 2004 (Armitage announced his resignation on November 16, 2004.)

Multi tasking leads to Attention-Deficiency.

Multitasking messes with the brain in sevee they download music to their iPod and update their Facebook page and complete a homework assignment and keep an eye on the episode of The Hills flickering on a nearby television. (A recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 53 percent of students in grades seven through 12 report consuming some other form of media while watching television; 58 percent multitask while reading; 62 percent while using the computer; and 63 percent while listening to music. “I get bored if it’s not all going at once,” said a 17-year-old quoted in the study.) They’re the ones whose still-maturing brains are being shaped to process information rather than understand or even remember it.

This is the great irony of multitasking—that its overall goal, getting more done in less time, turns out to be chimerical. In reality, multitasking slows our thinking. It forces us to chop competing tasks into pieces, set them in different piles, then hunt for the pile we’re interested in, pick up its pieces, review the rules for putting the pieces back together, and then attempt to do so, often quite awkwardly. (Fact, and one more reason the bubble will pop: A brain attempting to perform two tasks simultaneously will, because of all the back-and-forth stress, exhibit a substantial lag in information processing.)

The problem is, of course, the metaphor of the human brain as a computer. I think you can view the brain as a computer, but even computers slow down when multitasking. But there is one thing humans have which computers don’t: fun. It is simply more fun to do a task as good as you can and be proud of it, and not trying to do your homework assignment and instant message your friends with nonsense – and feel guilty about not having enough attention for your friends.

As Nadia Boulanger, one of the few female composers, said:

Life is denied by lack of attention, whether it be to cleaning windows or trying to write a masterpiece. – Nadia Boulanger

Leave a Reply

  • The Aesthetics and Beauty of Knowledge

    Shih was the opposite of facts and raw information; shih was the elegance of knowledge, the insight and skill to organize knowledge into meaningful patterns. As an artist chooses colours or light to make her pictures, a master of shih chooses textures of knowledge – various ideas, myths, abstractions, and theories – to create a way of seeing the world. The aesthetics and beauty of knowledge – this was shih.

    – David Zindell, The Broken God, 1993

  • Geek Attitude

    The attitude thing is about flexibility, portability, creativity, sociability and jamming (ran out of suitable “ity” words!). It’s about improvising – in the practical and musical senses of the word; not getting tangled in boundaries and the “right” way to do things.
    Definitely the only way to travel.
    Martin Delaney – “Laptop Music”.