Multitasking: problematic or a useful skill?

I multitask in all aspects of my life (save when I’m sleeping) and technology has always had a large role in my multitasking. As mentioned in a previous post, I am constantly juggling uni work, social media, google search queries, a list of articles to read, listening to music, watched items on ebay and eating (duh) then thinking about my next meal. Oh, and an endless stream of youtube videos I am always having to hold off from devouring.

All this multitasking is done through my phone and my laptop and sometimes with the tv or radio on in the background. I would say my constant multitasking has allowed my brain to perform a series of tasks simultaneously with, mostly, positive outcomes. There is, of course, the odd descent into multitasking madness where I am divulging into so much information at once that I lose sight of what task I had originally set out to do. But most of the time there’s a balance. Most of the time.

Image sourced from Colleen Worrell, Divided Attention, 2013.

Though I have to admit, I am guilty of this:

Image sourced from All That Spam blogspot, 2013.

Personal opinions aside, what do researchers make of multitasking – especially in this technology age? As it turns out, there are varying opinions. A 2013 study by academics, Kamal and Silva, defined multitasking as “performing multiple interleaving, and/or parallel tasks driven by time pressure” (Kamal & Silva, Investigating the Effects of Multitasking with Technology, 2013). Kamal and Silva used secondary academic research to inform readers on both perspectives of the multitasking with technology debate.

They looked at multitasking in the context of education, travel (e.g.driving), workplace and in general practice and found there were both benefits and disadvantages in each sect. For example, in education, while multitasking with emails, search engines, data bases and music were considered “good academic practices” (Kamal & Silva, Investigating the Effects of Multitasking with Technology, 2013), it becomes problematic when interacting with platforms such as social media, TV and instant messaging.

Interestingly, they found that abilities to multitask with technology varied across generations. With the integration of technologies into all aspects of life, multitasking with them has become more of a norm for younger generations. The study concluded that there are benefits and disadvantages to multitasking with technology; the main benefit being that certain forms of multitasking with technology can help to improve learning environments.

Image sourced from Learning Can Be Fun, Wiki spaces

While this academic study provided information for both arguments, there are a lot of studies readily available that do not provide the same level of neutral research. This year ABC News argued that there was a link between texting and walking with road accidents. Their research involved a focus a student hit by a bus from listening to earphones, two international students who crossed the road when their light was red (they were not in fact using their phones while crossing) and researchers discussing the effects of walking and texting. Most of the information seemed circumstantial and the facts from the researchers a bit of a stretch.

The green line demonstrates the walker's lateral path when walking undistracted, the blue line for reading and the red line for texting. Image sourced from Rebecca Baillie, ABC News, 2014

The green line demonstrates the walker’s lateral path when walking undistracted, the blue line for reading and the red line for texting. Image sourced from Rebecca Baillie, ABC News, 2014

Though the graph looks impressive, it’s interesting to see that the difference is on a scale of 0 – 0.1 and the differences appear to be almost non existent. Texting is quite the distraction indeed. Similarly, BBC Breakfast reported on the dangers of media multitasking whilst making broad statements about demographics, such as ‘young people’, ‘men’ and ‘women’. They also referred to unidentified studies about the effects of multitasking on society as a whole.

Limited research that only highlights the negative connotations of multitasking with technology seems to suggest that we have very limited capacities for multitasking. The production of time management and blocking apps that we ‘need’ in order to manage our multitasking only add to this notion of our limitations.

Academic studies indicate that there are benefits and disadvantages to multitasking with technology. I would agree that it is important to be wary of how you take on each task at hand, but the need to have an app organise your life doesn’t seem like a solution. Multitasking is an unavoidable aspect of life, so whether it is damaging to your brain or helps with productivity, we will all continue down this road. In the time it took to write this post, I engaged in social media, made some tea and listened to music. I also discovered a fantastic meme (see below). I regret nothing.

when the music is so good meme

Image sourced from bandikoto, Imgur, 2014.

 

References:

Baillie, R (2014). “Texting while walking: Doctor warns of distraction risk as student tells of being hit by bus”, ABC News, 7:30 Report [Online]. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-12/walking-distracted-by-phone-like-having-alcohol-on-board/5519740

Fletcher, M (2010) “Digital Media, Multi-Tasking: BBC BREAKFAST w/ Mal Fletcher”, Youtube. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MTqCCpjumeI

Kamal, M; Silva, Gerardo, (2013). “Investigating the Effects of Multitasking with Technology” MWAIS 2013 Proceedings.
Paper 8. Available at: http://aisel.aisnet.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1015&context=mwais2013

O’Donovan, K, (2013). “Top 15 Time Management Apps and Tools”, Lifehack. Available at: http://www.lifehack.org/articles/technology/top-15-time-management-apps-and-tools.html

Wasserman, T, (2012). “6 Apps That Block Online Distractions So You Can Get Work Done”, Mashable. Available at: http://mashable.com/2012/01/03/block-internet-distractions-apps/

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About intersectionalalien

Hi hello people of earth/space/cyberspace, intersectional alien here. I’m still trying to figure out my place on this earth. I like intersectional feminism, feminism in popular culture, LGBTQ+, refugee rights, veganism, mental health, nihilism, travelling, unlearning institutional conditioning, good tunes and consuming and creating stories.
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4 Responses to Multitasking: problematic or a useful skill?

  1. I find this blog post quite interesting as you have brought up a lot of different studies and views on the matter of multitasking with media. I have realised that I too lose sight of what I’m meant to be concentrating on by using too many tabs whilst studying. Although, they will not all be for study. Two concepts that you brought up were thought-provoking were that multitasking is varied across generations and the road accidents. Doing some research myself, there is a studies that have shown that people while working to a destination are multitasking with their mobile phones where they become disconnected with their surrounds. Which is why I can understand that there are accidents because if it. Furthermore, it is curious to think that multitasking is not a massive issue we just have to learn how much we can take on at a time. Great Post!

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