Can’t Stand the Silence

From Time Magazine’s recent cover story — The Multitasking Generation:

When people try to perform two or more related tasks either at the same time or alternating rapidly between them, errors go way up, and it takes far longer — often double the time or more — to get the jobs done than if they were done sequentially, says David E. Meyer, director of the Brain, Cognition and Action Laboratory at the University of Michigan: “The toll in terms of slowdown is extremely large — amazingly so.” Meyer frequently tests Gen M students in his lab, and he sees no exception for them, despite their “mystique” as master multitaskers.

This has been my experience as well. Multitasking simply slows me down and ruins any chance for quality. Nice analysis and graphic from Kathy Sierra to illustrate just that point, too. Kathy then goes on to explain this gem: “Perhaps the biggest problem of all, though, is that the majority of people doing the most media multitasking have a big-ass blind spot on just how much they suck at it.” That’s pretty funny. I couldn’t agree more. It always amazes me when you are on the phone with someone and you know they are simultaneously IM’ing or answering email on the other end and they think you don’t notice. Right. It’s obvious. We’ve all done it. You know when someone is paying attention to you and when they are not. You can’t fake it. It’s rude.

Anyway, check out Time’s article. It’s a nice piece that explains some of the science and psychology behind why multitasking is brain dead dumb. I like this part here where one researcher says that “Stanford students can’t go the few minutes between their 10 o’clock and 11 o’clock classes without talking on their cell phones. It seems to me that there’s almost a discomfort with not being stimulated — a kind of ‘I can’t stand the silence.” Interesting. And very true. The silence can be extremely loud and uncomfortable when you finally realize how out-of-control all those thoughts are bouncing around in your head all day long. I wonder, what actually is the silence? What’s beyond thought? I doubt you can get there by multitasking, that’s for sure.

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3 thoughts on “Can’t Stand the Silence

  1. Well, moms multitask just like many people do, sure. Sometimes we have to, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. And yes, I do think it’s all bad. Or mostly all bad, anyway. 🙂 If you are juggling tasks that all require complex thought, well, that’s true multitasking and that’s all bad. No question. If you are juggling some things that don’t require complex thought, that’s still multitasking but our brains are much more capable of handling it. I think the issue is in the thinking, not necessarily in the juggling.

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  2. Well, moms multitask just like many people do, sure. Sometimes we have to, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. And yes, I do think it’s all bad. Or mostly all bad, anyway. 🙂 If you are juggling tasks that all require complex thought, well, that’s true multitasking and that’s all bad. No question. If you are juggling some things that don’t require complex thought, that’s still multitasking but our brains are much more capable of handling it. I think the issue is in the thinking, not necessarily in the juggling.

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