It's better to smoke dope than to multitask
Pay attention here for a minute. Turn off the TV, put down the phone, stop stirring the soup, and just read. This is about multi-tasking.
Hailed just a few short years ago as a breakthrough in efficiency, doing several things more or less simultaneously is now being compared to attention deficit disorder. The human brain, the latest research is showing, is just not capable of performing two or more tasks simultaneously with any degree of efficiency. It gets agitated and distracted. Multitasking doesn't help learning; it hinders it.
The business world once embraced multitasking as a solution to increasingly demanding schedules. But the bloom is off that rose: A British study published in 2005 found that workers who were "distracted by email and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers." How big a drop? Ten IQ points. Let's not even think about multi-tasking dope smokers.
The study's author, University of London psychologist Glenn Wilson, was also quoted as saying that constantly breaking away from tasks to respond to email or text messages has essentially the same effect on alertness as missing a night's sleep.
Recently, a U.S. analyst estimated that the yearly cost to the U.S. economy of the inefficiencies and errors generated by multitasking at $650 billion. Meanwhile, some 28 per cent of workers surveyed said they believed their time was wasted in multitasking interruptions.
There's more: Experts believe that children might be at risk of underachievement because of out-of-control multitasking. In an interview in the Atlantic magazine, Jordan Grafman of the U.S. Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke said this: "Children (who) are instant messaging while doing homework, playing games online and watching TV are not going to do well in the long run."
This is the sort of observation cranky grand-parents have been making for years now, but often it's hard for conventional wisdom to stand up to the latest theories from efficiency "experts."
U.S. psychology professor Russell Poldrack warned, in an interview in the New Atlantis magazine, that humans are "not built" to multitask.
"We're really built to focus," he said. "And when we sort of force ourselves to multitask, we're driving ourselves to perhaps be less efficient in the long run even though it sometimes feels like we're being more efficient."
The moral is evident: One thing at a time.
source: The Montreal Gazette: Monday July 14, 2008