Monday, June 23, 2008

The MYTH of Multi-tasking

I am as guilty of multi-tasking as the next guy, but recently I've become convinced that contrary to my intentions Multi-tasking has been cutting DOWN on my productivity. I've found my thoughts scattered when I should be concentrating on one thing. Phone calls, and email can derail me when I'm in the middle of something big.

Then yesterday, thanks to Slashdot, I came across an article in the New Atlantis Journal that addresses the issue of Multi-tasking. The evidence in the article against multi-tasking is rather shocking.

The article claims that "In 2005, the BBC reported on a research study, funded by Hewlett-Packard and conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London, that found, “Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.” The psychologist who led the study called this new “infomania” a serious threat to workplace productivity."

Whoa! Twice that of a marijuana smoker??? Is all this information creating 'Info Zombies'? I don't do drugs for a reason, but I've been multi-tasking with the best of intentions!!!

We legislate against narcotics like Marijuana, but extol the benefits of something that has been proven to be worse than a drug? Ouch!

And considering that I've just been spearheading a migration away from desktop applications to Google Apps utilizing their widget heavy start page, I became doubly concerned with this next bit:

"One of the Harvard Business Review’s “Breakthrough Ideas” for 2007 was Linda Stone’s notion of “continuous partial attention,” which might be understood as a subspecies of multitasking: using mobile computing power and the Internet, we are “constantly scanning for opportunities and staying on top of contacts, events, and activities in an effort to miss nothing.”"

Yes that's /exactly/ what my Google Start Page does. It's riddled with news sites, RSS feeds, and task lists that thanks to Web 2.0 are change in real time! With all this information bombarding me constantly it seems like the Information Highway that was supposed to help speed me up has suddenly become one huge gridlocked traffic jam.

Then I remembered a book that I read way back in the 70's, ancient history by today's standards. The book was called “Future Shock” and it was authored by a visionary by the name of Alvin Toffler. I quickly became a fan of this learned man. While I consider myself a technophile I also am wary of Technology for Technology's sake. I credit Toffler for that dichotomy.

In his book Future Shock, Toffler claims that in the future change will happen faster and faster until it begins to overwhelm. The accelerated rate of technological and social change will inevitably leave people feeling disconnected from that which they are trying to claim, and suffering from "shattering stress and disorientation". Future Shock. Toffler asserted that nearly every social problem of the day could be credited to future shock. Toffler coined the term "information overload".

Now I honestly don't want to be an alarmist but there is plenty of evidence, both theoretical and proven, that seems to point to the fact that we need to slow down. And given that I had been previously theorizing the same thing, I'm more apt to listen and heed the advice of the New Atlantean and Toffler himself.

You can read the New Atlantis Journal Article here:

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