I MAY BE THE WORLD’S WORST MULTI-TASKER
I’M A WRITER—AND WRITING, AS FAR AS I AM CONCERNED, IS ABOUT FOCUS.
IT HAS TAKEN ME A LONG TIME TO GET TO THIS STAGE, (where I can get into the focus-on-writing zone on demand)
BUT NOW I DO THAT WELL.
I have got great faith in brainpower (though rather less in human nature). But, it is my experience, that if you apply your brain and focus, you can normally find a solution to most of the issues that one encounters in life.
I’m not so naïve as to say that you can implement them—because all sorts of alternative agendas, not to mention fear, greed, suspicion, and ignorance—tend to block even the most rational and well thought-out solutions. Nonetheless, I am much comforted by the thought that solutions are not only possible, but much more widely available than many of my more fatalistic brethren seem to think.
To use a phrase I return to so often it seems to be damn nearly my mantra: The answers are out there if only you are prepared to look.
But, here is the kicker. Looking requires focus (almost a social sin these days). We seem to prefer juggling many problems rather than resolving one (at a time).
Yes, there are such things as ‘wicked problems’—to use a technical term which I rather enjoy (check it out in Wikipedia) but they are the exception rather than the rule.
Inability or unwillingness to focus strikes me as a prevailing weakness of our society. Perhaps because focusing requires considerable effort, and our potential distractions are so many, we seem to be evolving a society where it is almost becoming culturally unacceptable not to multitask—and where refusing to really take the time to understand an issue is regarded as reasonable. After all, thinking takes time and effort and we are busy, busy, busy. Besides, we have gut instinct to rely upon.
Instead, we skate, we skim, we hop, we trivialize —and we feel proud of ourselves because we are multitasking.
I have to wonder whether multitasking isn’t another name for intellectual laziness. But, I will freely confess that I am biased—and not just because, as a writer, I need to focus. It is also because I suffer from a form of dyslexia which means that, innately, I don’t handle multi-tasking well. You could argue that, in some ways, my mind is downright slow (which, however true, doesn’t make my ego happy) though, paradoxically, I’m quite quick witted.
But, whatever about my limitations, I am greatly concerned at the way multitasking has become so much part of our way of life. It seems to me it is making us dumber.
An excellent piece by Travis Bradberry in Entrepreneur of March 27 2015 suggests that I may have a point.
Multitasking Can Damage Your Brain and Career, Studies Say
You’ve likely heard that multitasking is problematic, but new studies show that it kills your performance and may even damage your brain. Research conducted at Stanford University found that multitasking is less productive than doing a single thing at a time. The researchers found that people who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information cannot pay attention, recall information, or switch from one job to another as well as those who complete one task at a time.
A Special Skill?
But what if some people have a special gift for multitasking? The Stanford researchers compared groups of people based on their tendency to multitask and their belief that it helps their performance. They found that heavy multitaskers—those who multitask a lot and feel that it boosts their performance—were actually worse at multitasking than those who like to do a single thing at a time. The frequent multitaskers performed worse because they had more trouble organizing their thoughts and filtering out irrelevant information, and they were slower at switching from one task to another. Ouch. Multitasking reduces your efficiency and performance because your brain can only focus on one thing at a time. When you try to do two things at once, your brain lacks the capacity to perform both tasks successfully.
Multitasking Lowers IQ
Research also shows that, in addition to slowing you down, multitasking lowers your IQ. A study at the University of London found that participants who multitasked during cognitive tasks experienced IQ score declines that were similar to what they’d expect if they had smoked marijuana or stayed up all night. IQ drops of 15 points for multitasking men lowered their scores to the average range of an 8-year-old child. So the next time you’re writing your boss an email during a meeting, remember that your cognitive capacity is being diminished to the point that you might as well let an 8-year-old write it for you.
Brain Damage From Multitasking
It was long believed that cognitive impairment from multitasking was temporary, but new research suggests otherwise. Researchers at the University of Sussex in the UK compared the amount of time people spend on multiple devices (such as texting while watching TV) to MRI scans of their brains. They found that high multitaskers had less brain density in the anterior cingulate cortex, a region responsible for empathy as well as cognitive and emotional control.
While more research is needed to determine if multitasking is physically damaging the brain (versus existing brain damage that predisposes people to multitask), it’s clear that multitasking has negative effects. Neuroscientist Kep Kee Loh, the study’s lead author, explained the implications: “I feel that it is important to create an awareness that the way we are interacting with the devices might be changing the way we think and these changes might be occurring at the level of brain structure.”
VOR words 423.