Doing Multiple Tasks Isn't Multitasking
"Mathematics... mathematics is never going to lead you to higher truth. Because it's boring!" - Charles, "A Beautiful Mind," Universal Pictures (2001)
Multitasking...true, human multitasking is a fallacy.
This came to mind when we visited our son in his room recently.
His computer had four windows open plus IM going, his iPod was plugged into his ears (thankfully he wasn't sharing the noise), his TV was on in the corner, he was texting with his phone.
He said he was getting a lot done by multitasking.
We call it switching tasks...very fast but switching none the less.
Sure, your quad core computer or dual core smartphone can multiprocess; but it's not multitasking it's simply executing a bunch of things simultaneously...it's not thinking.
When he's working on a report, that's where the mind is. When he's IMing, texting; that's what he's thinking about. When he's surfing...he's surfing. When he's updating one of his social pages...he's there.
Everything else is white noise.
Nash explained it a little differently when he said, "I've gotten used to ignoring them and I think, as a result, they've kind of given up on me. I think that's what it's like with all our dreams and our nightmares."
You may even be one who firmly believes you have really mastered multitasking. A Lot About Nothing - When people are online today, they increasingly carry out other activities because they're sure they can. Some of the activities are effective white noise. Others are lost the minute they turn away, in a few hours, a few days. But with data/content coming at us from everywhere, it is as natural as eating at your computer. Source - GfK Roper
But go into a meeting with another multitasking master.
You know he/she blocked out 30 minutes for you.
You wade through the detailed report they asked for while they:
Flip through emails
Check phone text messages
We Send Messages
When you're done, they thank you/congratulate you on a great report.
Actually, they just repeated what Nash said, "Your comfort comes second to my ability to hear my own voice."
Always-On - People who pride themselves on being masters of multitasking often look like one of Picasso's later paintings. They are working on multiple projects, multiple activities doing a little here, a little there and rushing to complete them all at the same time. They have learned to deal with errors by correcting, fine-tuning on the fly.
Your multitasking business associate may have gotten a lot done while you made your presentation, but giving you his/her attention while you detailed the results of your research/work wasn't one of them.
When you leave, do you believe - really believe - the person on the other side of the desk really got what you were saying?
People will still insist they are good at multitasking and are capable of handling/digesting the way data streams at them handle the information/the workload differently.
They can all handle it BUT...
If you're a boomer or late Gen Xer, you work around multiple tasking .
If you're a millennial or early Gen Xer, what's the problem here?
The truth is the latter groups aren't little versions of us.
Generational Differences - Each generation is different from its predecessor because they are exposed to activities, technology and things differently. Younger adults accept technology as an integral part of their life that has been available "forever." Older adults see the benefits of the technology but have to work at integrating it into their daily life. Source - Pew Internet & American Life Project
Sharing, staying connected, instantaneity, assembling random information into patterns, using their technology in new, different ways is natural
To them, their tech tools are just normal devices.
According to a recent Pew Internet report, the millennial in the cubicle next to you or down the hall has, on average, played more than 5,000 hours of videogames; exchanged more than 250,00 emails, IMs, phone text messages; 10,000 hours of cell phone use, 3,500 hours online.
To millennials and early Gen Xers, certain things are natural:
They were born 10 years after the 1st consumer computer (Altair)
The 3rd generation Super Mario Brothers hit the market
When they entered kindergarten, Tim Berners-Lee developed the World Wide Web
In middle school they used a Palm Pilot
In high school Sean Fanning introduced Napster file-sharing
On high school graduation they received an iPod and cameraphone
In college they were creating, reading blogs, RSS feeds, Wikipedia
They ventured onto social media sites like Friendster
They enjoyed free online phone service with Skype
As they started entering the workforce, they had broadband to their home/apartment
They were shooting video, editing it, post producing with software like muvee Reveal, showing it at home or on YouTube
They're a lot like Nash when he said, "You wanted to see if I was crazy and would screw everything up if I actually won."
Comfortable, Natural - You've seen toddlers, teens, tweens pick up almost any computer/processor-based device and begin using it almost instantly. They're just natural tools to them, not intricate, specialized technology. Source - Pew Internet & American Life Project
Their brains are just wired different than the earlier generations. But it doesn't mean they process information any differently.
Researchers at Carnegie Mellon tested the brain's ability to do two things at once. They mapped the brain activity during single tasks and during multitasking. The results showed repeatedly that brain activity decreases when people try to do two things at once.
Gearhead - There are times we'd swear teens, tweens and millennials have multiprocessor chips for brains. They look the same as you and us but they're different, they work with devices differently, they handle data streams differently. Multitasking forces the mind to jump back, forth between competing data streams. This leads to stress, inhibition of creative ability, inability to problem solve and slower thinking. Image Source - Worth1000.com
Millennials/early Gen Xers are digital natives surrounded by digital immigrants, people who are less at ease using the new technologies.
The tools they use aren't technologies because they were raised with them.
Texting, IMing, surfing, searching, doing videos are as natural as breathing.
Rather than multiprocessing, they filtering datastreams, analyzing/making decisions at ultra-high speed, making errors and correcting them in real-time.
It happens faster than it took to write the sentence above!
But it does reduce productivity and increase mistakes.
Ooppss, Darn - Research such as that conducted by Rogers & Morisell has shown that an individual who is frequently interrupted takes up to 50 percent longer to complete a given task and makes up to 50 percent more errors. The tests involved single-focus and multiple-focus tasks. Source - Rogers & Morisell, Journal of Experimental Psychology
The digital native will continue to toggle back and forth between business activities, chats with friends, online research and onscreen work projects.
You can pride yourself on being able to juggle multiple tasks but in reality, this technophile overdose really produces a condition that a technology consultant called "continuous partial attention" - scanning the sources to find the optimum inputs.
The problem/challenge for both digital natives and digital immigrants is that our new business/personal tools - smartphones, tablets, notebooks - mashes work/leisure, producer/consumer, education/entertainment into one stream of blended/blurred activity.
Multtasking may be highly praised, but it's still a myth.
The brain can operate "natural" functions like breathing, feeling, seeing, hearing, tasting but also process multiple concepts is impossible.
That's done sequentially...one at a time.
We'll drink to that!
Don't believe it?
Next time you're having a serious or intimate moment with your significant other, answer a text message or couple of emails.
Or look into their eyes and repeat what Nash said, "It is only in the mysterious equations of love that any logic or reason can be found. I am only here tonight because of you."
See which works better...
Maybe you'll have better luck than we did...but we get the cast off in two weeks.