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A Multi-tasking World to Love and Distrust

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Lori Aratani, over at the Washington Post has written an interesting piece titled Teens Can Multitask, But What Are Costs? I suspect the cost is not only to teens. With exploding responsibilities, who doesn’t feel like they have way too much on their plate?

It's homework time and 17-year-old Megan Casady of Silver Spring is ready to study.

She heads down to the basement, turns on MTV and boots up her computer. Over the next half hour, Megan will send about a dozen instant messages discussing the potential for a midweek snow day. She'll take at least one cellphone call, fire off a couple of text messages, scan Weather.com, volunteer to help with a campus cleanup day at James Hubert Blake High School where she is a senior, post some comments on a friend's Facebook page and check out the new pom squad pictures another friend has posted on hers.

In between, she'll define "descent with modification" and explain how "the tree analogy represents the evolutionary relationship of creatures" on a worksheet for her AP biology class.

Call it multitasking homework, Generation 'Net style.

Makes me a little weak in the knees, but I find myself doing a half-dozen things while I write this and I’m a hell of a long distance from my teens. That touches on the reality of constant information, which is akin to constant stimulation, which is akin to who knows what? Bad government? Misunderstanding the issues? Inability to know the difference?

There is special concern for teenagers because parts of their brain are still developing, said Jordan Grafman, chief of cognitive neuroscience at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.



"Introducing multitasking in younger kids in my opinion can be detrimental," he said. "One of the biggest problems about multitasking is that it's almost impossible to gain a depth of knowledge of any of the tasks you do while you're multitasking. And if it becomes normal to do, you'll likely be satisfied with very surface-level investigation and knowledge."

Surface level investigation and knowledge? The comparison to our present problematic government is irresistible.

The current generation of teens "is trying to do lots of multitasking because they think it's cool and less boring and because they have lots of gadgets that help them be more successful at this," said David Meyer, director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan. "The belief is they're getting good at this and that they're much better than the older generation at it and that there's no cost to their efficiency."

In the true spirit of ‘form follows function,’ media advertisers pace their ads to the five-second sound bites teens respond to. But we all get the message—or don’t get it and the results can be profound. When a president repeats that al-Qaeda is attacking us in Iraq and al-Qaeda attacked us on 9-11, the inescapable (and incorrect) conclusion that Iraq caused the World Trade Center collapse is still out there, still incredibly credible.

On the other hand, Nazi Germany proved that the sustained lie becomes believable some seventy years ago, three generations before MTV and YouTube. Sustained conversation and commentary is becoming more rare as Bill O’Reilly shouting match-formats are ubiquitous.

Another Bill, William F. Buckley, Jr. would be a hard sell these days, with his reasoned response to reasoned opponents. It’s not enough to complain—we are where we are and that’s where we are.

(CNN) -- Multitasking is a managerial buzz-concept these days, a post-layoff corporate assumption that the few can be made to do the work of many.
But newly released results of scientific studies in multitasking indicate that carrying on several duties at once may, in fact, reduce productivity, not increase it.

"In some cases, you could be wasting your employer's time," says researcher Joshua Rubinstein, Ph.D., formerly of the University of Michigan and now with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) working on security issues. "And in certain cases" of multitasking, Rubinstein says, "you could be risking employers a dangerous outcome."

Mmmm. A different view and (thank god) it’s from a credentialed researcher in the now time-zone instead of an old gaffer my age. I’ve not heard it explained as a business plan to squeeze more much from the same few. I do know that, as a nation, we are the hardest working (at least measured by weekly hours) of the current list of industrialized nations.

That’s another anomaly. Are we still an ‘industrialized’ nation as we keep off-shoring our industry? And when does that reach a tipping point?

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http://www.jim-freeman.com

Jim Freeman's op-ed pieces and commentaries have appeared in The New York Times, Chicago Tribune, International Herald-Tribune, CNN, The New York Review, The Jon Stewart Daily Show and a number of magazines. His thirteen published books are (more...)
 

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