Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Eli sucks at multitasking

Mostly, like a computer with a fast processor and no memory, he ends up spending all his time thrashing, so it was a happy day to read Rudy Baum's latest tirade in C&E news

We know from personal experience and from recent studies that multitasking while driving is a bad idea. Cell phones, iPhones, BlackBerrys, and the like just don’t mix with driving. People talking on cell phones while driving are as dangerous as people who are legally drunk. People who are texting are much more dangerous.

Multitasking outside of cars, however, is a different story. We’ve all been told that the ability to process multiple streams of information, most of it digital, is the wave of the future. Teenagers and young adults, we are told, have developed the ability to do homework, browse the Web, listen to music, watch television, and instant message simultaneously, packing so much more into every hour than we old-school unitaskers. . .

Guess what? It doesn’t work. The Aug. 30 New York Times carried a story on “The Mediocre Multitasker” that led: “Read it and gloat. Last week, researchers at Stanford University published a study showing that the most persistent multitaskers perform badly in a variety of tasks. They don’t focus as well as non-multitaskers. They’re more distractable. They’re weaker at shifting from one task to another and at organizing information. They are, as a matter of fact, worse at multitasking than people who don’t ordinarily multitask.”. . .

Chronic multitaskers do process information differently. They do it badly. The research definitively shows that multitaskers “have greater difficulty filtering out irrelevant stimuli from their environment … they are less likely to ignore irrelevant representations in memory … and they are less effective in suppressing the activation of irrelevant task sets.

Eli is getting to like that fellow Baum


Robert Grumbine said...

I liked the quote in the Science magazine write up -- the major multitaskers are bad at all cognitive skills related to multitasking.

David B. Benson said...

The most famous Zen book was written about 700 CE by Dogun: "Instructions for the Zen Cook". The most famous quoatation from Dogun's masterpiece is

"When you are washing rice, just wash rice. Pay attention to every grain."

Anonymous said...

Am I the only one to see the elephant in the room?

Aren't the fairer sex held to more adept at multitasking than the donkey of the species?

What should I tell my other half now?

I note that none of the study's authors is female. Is this a biased study?


Cymraeg llygoden

PS Sorry not to have got back on that earlier copyediting paper matter; it happened to be just the wrong time for me to have any input (viz. 3-week holiday).

bi -- International Journal of Inactivism said...

"Even with scientific validation at his fingertips, Mr. Leleux frets that the Stanford study may have been done 'by a bitter unitasker like me who wants to validate his own existence.'"

We need a conspiracy theory to go along with this, complete with hidden Marxist messages, pork barrels, birth certificates, and certain fat people.

-- bi

Horatio Algeranon said...

We have become a society of individuals who do a lot of different things very poorly.

And we wear it like some sort of badge.

Marion Delgado said...

With due respect to rudy, who does deserve our admiration and support, I'll wait till there's more than one quirky pop study before I care.