Provided by Troy Headrick from Thinker Boy: Blog & Art
*Troy Headrick is a thinker, writer, artist, educator, and adventurer who has lived in five countries. He writes on a wide variety of subjects and has had work published in many print and online magazines, journals, newspapers, and blogs. His blog, found at https://troyheadrick-thinkerboy.com/, includes short creative nonfiction pieces often of an autobiographical and humorous nature. He is working on several book projects.*
I’m happy to see that my “Time Is Money” post on multitasking caused quite a stir. It prompted a very interesting conversation and then Bogdan put together a really nice follow-up which he called “Multitasking vs Quick Switch.” Again, a number of readers found his blog so thought-provoking that a really lively exchange followed.
I posted a comment to “Multitasking vs Quick Switch”, suggesting that I think multitasking goes beyond something we simply find annoying—it is certainly an annoyance that we are so busy with work and in our private lives that we often find ourselves doing many things simultaneously whether we want to or not—and is actually harmful. I even speculated that I thought multitasking might be rewiring our brains in harmful ways. Almost immediately after posting this comment, I did a quick internet search and found “What Multitasking Does to Your Brain,” by Drake Baer, which both corroborated my speculative assessment and left me feeling unsettled.
Baer says that research suggests that multitasking “stunts emotional intelligence” and “makes us less creative” (among other harmful things). So I guess I wasn’t far off when I hypothesized about the potential for multitasking to really screw us up.
In one of the comments posted to “Multitasking vs Quick Switch”, Nik confessed that he or she—I’m sorry Nik, but I don’t know your gender—“would like to pay better attention when people talk to me” and suggested that multitasking was the culprit. I’ve noticed that I similarly have more trouble really listening and hearing what others say when I’m in a conversation or while listening to a presentation than I used to. So Nik and I have something in common and I bet we aren’t alone. (In fact, I bet that many people would claim that they are losing their ability to pay close attention to the words of others.) If this is a widespread phenomenon, then the implications are stark—we’re heading toward a period where people simply don’t connect as well (or understand one another as well) as they once did. Imagine how a widespread degradation of emotional intelligence, caused at least partly by multitasking, might negatively affect our interpersonal relationships and the world we live in!
I think multitasking is perhaps rewiring our brains in a way that could potentially harm our ability to think critically and be skillful problem solvers. Critical thinking involves the artful ability to discern and prioritize. When we are presented with a large numbers of tasks to do and a very short time to complete them, we are likely to feel overwhelmed. In such a situation, it is easy to panic and to make bad decisions. Because everything needs to be completed NOW, that part of our brains which makes comparative judgments is apt to be short-circuited. We have a hard time judging which things need doing first and which things can wait. (Actually, multitasking makes us feel like nothing can wait.) Everything, even things we would normally think of as being trivial if we had more time to understand their true importance (or lack thereof), looks equally significant. Our ability to make sound judgments about the tasks we need to do decreases in proportion to the diminution of time we are given to think about them.
I strongly suspect that the human mind works best when it is allowed to focus. There is more power and efficacy in mental concentration than there is in dilution. And the intellect has much greater potency when it able to remain unified rather than being forced into a state of fragmentation.
These reasons and others should make us think long and hard about how we want to conduct ourselves professionally and personally. It appears that the old minimalist saying “less is more” is one we need to ponder and build our lives around, especially if we want to remain healthy, happy, and capable of forming meaningful relationships.
So, I’m curious. What experiences—both good and bad—have you had with multitasking? Do you agree with my critique or am I missing something? Perhaps I’ve overstated or understated the case? I look forward to receiving your feedback.