When I first developed this site I became instantly obsessed and distracted with its look, information, tidbits of knowledge and potential interactive options. The reality was I was suppose to be reading! However, the computer and watching my information load, visitor statistics rise was more enticing. The paper bound entertainment quickly became second choice.
A recent article in the New York Times section of the Observer (Sunday, June 13, 2010) titled “As Gadgets Take Over, Focus Falters,” by Matt Richtel, explores this exact idea with a focus on the potential detriment of multitasking. It is classic that we associate multitasking with high levels of productivity; but researchers at Stanford University have noted that the heavier the multitasker the less productive they can be. The larger the number of distractions, means a heavy multitasker is less likely to be able to perform tasks effectively. “When multiple distractions are present, the difference in performance between light and heavy multitaskers is statistically significant” notes Ophir and Nass from Stanford. Other important features highlighted about multitaskers include the fact that “multitaskers tended to search for new information rather than accept a reward for putting older, more valuable information to work”; and that there are “a growing group of people who think the slightest hint that something interesting might be going on is like catnip. They can’t ignore it.” As a teacher, this is one of my personal challenges – continually reminding my students that the world is not going to pass them by if they don’t answer the text message instantaneously, or tweet back how boring (let’s hope it is exciting!) my lesson is at the moment.
This is not just an afliction that our young are experiencing. The article mentions that we now understand that our “neural networks continue to develop, influenced by things like learning skills.” This was one of the concepts that made Ophir wonder how the characteristics of the brain might be influenced by multitasking. The main protagonist in the article Mr. Campbell is not unlike my own husband who is keenly anticipating the release of the new iPhone and who likes to check the mobile phone coverage of the area in which we will be holiday-ing. I too have felt the draw to the ping of my own blackberry and have had to be diligent about silencing it when reading books and having conversations. Is all of this attention to our technology worth the increase in stress? and increase in isolation? Perhaps the most relevant point made in relation to my doctoral research is in the final stages of the article when it is noted that “the ultimate risk of heavy technology use is that it diminishes empathy by limiting how much people engage with one another, even in the same room.” As I complete this sentence, I think it is about time I log off and go out for a walk with my husband and the dogs.