“Hey can you pass the ketchup?” “Yea yea, I’ll do it tomorrow.”by Katherine Sziraczky on Mar, 20 2011
While we may not always consciously realize it, many of us utilize technology that makes multitasking easier every single day. Driving while texting? Multitasking (…not that any of us would ever do that…). Cooking while simultaneously listening to music and Skyping with your friend in Argentina? Multitasking. Checking your email while waiting for that Hulu ad to finish up? Yep, that too.
Multitasking has become a way of life for many people in this day and age. We open multiple internet tabs on our browsers without a second thought, and have adjusted our peripheral vision to keep an eye on instant messaging while working on essays. Sure, allowing you to do so many things at once may feel, and actually be, more productive in some situations, but what toll is it really taking on us neurologically, as well as socially?
The truth is that when you perform two tasks at once, you do neither one as well as doing each alone. Research using magnetic resonance images of brain activity provides evidence for this claim. Christof Koch, a professor of cognitive and behavioral biology at the California Institute of Technology, says: “After all, if you really want to listen to something, you close your eyes, right?”
As the number of tasks you juggle increases, complex thought and deep reasoning also decrease significantly. Professor Russel Poldrack from the University of California finds that when people are studying with distractions, like TV or music or instant messaging, the arriving information goes to a different part of the brain, rather than to the hippocampus which stores and recalls information. With multitasking, we can pay attention to a lot of incoming data, but at a relatively shallow degree of processing. We also forget how to expel irrelevant information as the influx of details increases, highlighting our diminishing ability to efficiently deal with new knowledge on a level of deep understanding. Multitasking in this way allows us to function more like a computer, but is that really how you want your brain to be wired? Less creativity and genuine perception, more information flowing through your temporary working memory. As we get closer to the extraordinary functional abilities of computers, do we inevitably lose what it means to be human?
Too much multitasking has been correlated with bad temper. Dr. Alan Keen with Australia’s Central Queensland University says it is because of the extra doses of hormones and adrenaline released by the body to force itself to catch up with everything going around. It makes sense: I personally get a bit testy when I’m doing research for school, replying to club emails, listening to music, chatting on Facebook, and trying to carry on a conversation with the person physically next to me, all at the same time. Do I give up any of the individual tasks? Hell to the no (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v7yLL4sxWPk)…each activity just gets progressively less efficient and the person next to me eventually gives up and leaves. And you know what? Sometimes I don’t even register that the person has left for a few minutes because I’m so absorbed in trying to balance everything else. It’s pretty embarrassing.What else have I missed in the real world while I’m “living” through my laptop?
Technology that makes this crazy balancing act easier is often praised, but after reading up on all of this I have to wonder, is it really advantageous to society? Or will our ability to devote our attention to one task, one person, one song eventually disappear altogether?
I sincerely hope not.