Multitasking – BS with a capital BS.

This is a quick little rant.  My wife asked if I needed help getting down off my soapbox.  I said, “No, I’ll write a blog post”. :)

Tonight, I was reading some things online and watching TV at the same time.  I am a digital native (born in 1980).  I have been “practicing” multitasking my entire life – I can remember doing homework while watching TV in middle school and high school.  I wrote songs during classes, and I graduated with a 4.0 (not that that means anything).

Yet, near the end of a TV show, there was some line that summed up the point of the show and I didn’t get it.  I had no idea the significance of the line and my wife looked at me and said, “I love that you can listen enough to laugh at some parts of the show, but have no idea what the show was about.”  She meant I was clearly doing something else on my computer and watching TV, but I was clearly not doing either to the best of my abilities.  I was not “multitasking”, I was switching back and forth…which means I was missing parts of both activities as I switched back and forth.  (That’s what our brain does, it switches – kind of like early computer processors…there’s some cognitive science to back that up somewhere, but this is a rant – look it up yourself). :)

The biological limitations of our brains inability to multitask is likely genetic, not a learned ability.  So instead of thinking “digital natives” are better at multitasking, perhaps we ought consider that all we are better at is *appearing* as though we are multitasking.  Importantly, those of us who buy the multitasking myth are just dictate  deluding ourselves (did you get the Goonies reference?).

So instead of perpetuating the myth, discuss with your students how focused, attentive effort results in deeper learning, improved products, and greater productivity.  Sometimes switching back and forth is ok, but sometimes usually (like when you are struggling to understand something) focused attention is better.

This entry was posted in Critical Examination of Technology, Learning. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Multitasking – BS with a capital BS.

  1. tablettalkblog says:

    Interesting take. I think it would actually be interesting to have students test this and they might be surprised at the results.


  2. Jesse Wilcox says:

    I agree with what was written in this blog. Furthermore, if people are focusing intently on one task, obvious events can be missed. Our brains filter out other sensory inputs in favor of focusing more precisely at the task at hand.
    A few examples of this:

    Much research has been done on multitasking in the field of psychology. One researcher wrote, “We have not yet found something that [multitaskers] are definitely better at than people who don’t multitask.”


  3. John Sowash says:

    I have noticed that I have a tendency to task-switch a LOT. I’ve begun to try to eliminate distractions (i.e. closing my Twitter client) when I need to focus. It really does help, but takes a lot of discipline.


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