Kevin Blissett: Out of the Cave

Leadership, Classroom 2.0, Curriculum, China

So You Think You’re Multitasking…



Generation M students–those saturated in technological media–may appear to be multitasking geniuses as they IM, SMS, listen to their iPods, and say hi to mom all at the same time, but research is indicating that focusing on several tasks simultaneously is probably reducing the results in each of the tasks and creating “antsy” minds in need of downtime.  And the issues associated with this multitasking lifestyle don’t apply solely to Gen-M’s; they are also applicable to professionals who juggle multiple tasks every day in the workplace.

A Time magazine article by Claudia Wallis speaks to this topic and reveals that true “multitasking” may be a fiction, that it instead appears to be quickly toggling on and off activities upon which we are actually focusing individually. While having many different activities going on at the same time may have some benefits, studies are showing that meaningful interactions within the family and the classroom are being deleteriously affected. Wallis cites anthropologist Elinor Ochs, director of UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families, who explains:

“We saw that when the working parent comes through the door, the other spouse and the kids are so absorbed by what they’re doing that they don’t give the arriving parent the time of day,” says Ochs. The returning parent, generally the father, was greeted only about a third of the time, usually with a perfunctory “Hi.” “About half the time the kids ignored him or didn’t stop what they were doing, multitasking and monitoring their various electronic gadgets,” she says. “We also saw how difficult it was for parents to penetrate the child’s universe. We have so many videotapes of parents actually backing away, retreating from kids who are absorbed by whatever they’re doing.”

Gen M’s multitasking habits have social and psychological implications as well. If you’re IMing four friends while watching That ’70s Show, it’s not the same as sitting on the couch with your buddies or your sisters and watching the show together. Or sharing a family meal across a table. Thousands of years of evolution created human physical communication–facial expressions, body language–that puts broadband to shame in its ability to convey meaning and create bonds. What happens, wonders UCLA’s Ochs, as we replace side-by-side and eye-to-eye human connections with quick, disembodied e-exchanges? Those are critical issues not just for social scientists but for parents and teachers trying to understand–and do right by–Generation M.

As a result of all of these activities constantly “requiring” attention, multitaskers seem to have difficulty focusing on one task deeply and following it to its conclusion; consequently, tasks which are completed are often done so superficially. This would seem to indicate that students, leaders, and project managers should focus intently on the task at hand, complete it, and then proceed to the next task versus taking  bites out of multiple assignments over time. 

Take a look at the rest of this insightful article.

Photo by Farai


April 11, 2009 - Posted by | multitasking, technology, time management, university

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