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If multitasking harms us, I’m mortally wounded

Submitted by on Tuesday, 25 August 2009 4 Comments

Think you’re doing more because  you’re doing more at once?

Think again. If you can. You might not be able to if a new study is right when it contends that multitaskers are actually worse at switching mental gears.

The research was published this week in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences,” a journal covering biological, physical and social sciences. Hmm. Sounds like multitasking to me.

According to the study, multitaskers eventually lose their ability to filter out the mental noise of the chirping irrelevancies in our lives. Sort of like when a boss busted me with TweetDeck beeping in the other day. Honestly, I was listening.

The research, conducted at Stanford University, looked mainly at use of electronic media – the folks who “check their e-mail while talking on the phone and sneaking in some online shopping,” according to CNN.

I’m still trying to figure out how to do that, because it might be a helpful skill. I think I can now if I talk on the landline, check email on the Blackberry and cybershop the old-fashioned way. I’m thinking of hooking up my desktop computer atgain  so I can check a few news sites while I’m at it, now that we have a wireless network that would let me run two stations at once.

Ay, but that’s not good, the experts say. It leads to a long-term inability to focus – kind of like the one I experienced in the previous paragraph as my two-computer fantasy took over my  brain.

“You’re being flooded with too much information and you can’t selectively filter out quickly which is important and which is not important,” David W. Goodman, M.D., the director of the Adult Attention Deficit Disorder Center of Maryland, told CNN. “It only takes a fraction of a second for you to take your eyes off the road and miss the guy making a right-hand turn into your lane.”

I’ll concede that information flooding has caused long-term erosion in my case, but it wasn’t electronic media that did it.

It was a previous job working for an online news site, where the police scanner or instant message quickly made the previous minute’s priorities irrelevant. The morning’s to-d0 list? Toss it. I still had items that had been pending for more than a year when I left that job.

I’ve had to work  hard in the past  year to pull myself back, reverting – gasp! – to good old-fashioned paper lists. They’re quaint in a way, but they work. I’ve also had to limit my social media time, not because it’s a distraction but because it’s such a pleasant diversion.

None of those techniques works when it comes to housework, though. I just can’t muster up the same sense of deadline urgency for cleaning the toilet that I can for finishing an article.

At least now I know why: Multitasking has damaged me. Deal with the dirty house, Dad. I’m defective.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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  • Adam said:

    “Aston-Jones says that it’s unclear if some people are drawn to multitasking because that’s the way their brain works, or if multitasking itself causes changes in the brain. And it’s not clear if the brain changes caused by switching attention from YouTube to Google to Twitter and then back to your iPhone — if that is what is occurring — are easily reversed.”

    I used to multitask a lot. I would have several IM windows going at a time while watching TV, listening to music and surfing the web. Well it does make it hard to focus on a task, but I’ll tell you it’s not irreversible at all. The brain gets used to what it does. It’s about making a decision on how you want to use it and just do it. I can’t wait for the follow up story. I’m sure their years of research will pay off, but I’m also sure it will be useless much like this article was.

  • mushroom said:

    some people, like myself, HAVE to multitask — it’s the way my brain works… i perform better when i’m multitasking, i dont care what this ‘test’ says

    in the middle of working, i’ll check web sites, i’ll listen to music, i’ll play on the internet, the brief interruption allows me to better concentrate on my work, otherwise my brain “gets bored” and when my brain “gets bored”, it gets angry.

    i wonder if these tests included full mental evaluations of the test subjects, or they just “assume” that every has the same mental conditions.

    i hate these kinds of things, cuz they never apply to me and they paint everyone with such a broad brush

  • MtnMom said:

    Mercy! Then there’s folks like me who close their FaceBook accout because so many faces with so much to say all at one time is information overload.

    Analyze that and get back to me folks. =\

  • Debra said:

    It probably means you’re smarter than those of us who still try to keep up on all of it. Though I’ll miss you there!