Have you ever tried writing a mammoth research paper during finals week the night before its due? Sure you have. More than likely you were up for hours, cramming a semester’s worth of information into a word document, but to make the process less mundane and more entertaining, you decide to take that new album and have it on ambiently (which if you’re like me turns up to warp ten). Meanwhile, there’s a Facebook tab open, a microwave pizza to fill your appetite and a can of Red Bull to wash it down with. You then realize that you should study for another final, so you switch between a textbook of a different subject and this paper. Before you know it, the crack of dawn has come and you’re only half way done, staring at the screen wondering where all the time went!
Research is showing that the congnitive demand we put on our brains when we switch between two tasks is taxing and ultimately detrimental. As a classmate of mine defined it, multitasking is, “Doing two things poorly instead of one thing well.”
Most everyone does it. Myself included. I admittedly like listening to instrumental alternative music when I do homework to help me try and relax, but I know that it’s a gateway distraction to Facebook, email, Hulu, Youtube, and my phone. It often times leads to one or a combination of those activities for the majority of us. Annie Murphy Paul writes in an article about students and multitasking in the classroom that 80 percent of college students admit to texting during class; 15 percent say they send 11 or more texts in a single class period. According to Paul, college students are more likely to multitask because of access to technology and less restiction about the use of it.
So, why do we engage in this so much? In a LiveScience article written by Tia Ghose, studies suggest that a majority of those who mutitask do so because they feed into their admitted distraction rather than a motivated sense of productivity. It’s a given that cognitive efficiency is lowered when we multi task, but the same aforementioned article says that people felt better (Ghose, 2013) in spite of it. Ghose further writes about a confidence boost in studies conducted on undergraduate students… I think, therefore I am good at this. Modern psychology is suggesting to those who think they are successful multi taskers that they’re not at all…. “Our brains don’t do two things at once; instead, we rapidly switch between tasks, putting heavy burdens on attention, memory and focus,” says cognitive psychologist David Strayer.
I now what you may be thinking. “Okay, so I’m a little slower at school work because I like to eat dinner and listen to music while I’m studying. But it’s not hurting anyone.” You may be right, but you might want to think about that the next time you get a text from a buddy on the road. As demonstrated in an article read in class about an automobile accident with Atlantic writer Walter Kirn, him glancing at his cell phone became the primary function and driving took a back seat (no pun intended) in that moment. It nearly cost him his life. In a report from the National Safety Counsel, drivers who used their cell phones were four times as likely to get in a wreck and two out of three surveyed in a AAA study say that they have used their phone while driving within the last thirty days (NSC, 2014).
In this day and age where we are culturally so dependent on technology for routine tasks, I think it’s difficult to not multitask… and there in lies the challenge. We are a generation that is symbiotic with the technological curve and have a lot of distraction at our fingertips. Social media in particular has leeched itself to so many areas of our lives. For me, I’m involved with a lot of on and off campus groups and the way that we connect with each other… Facebook. Some of my study groups and classmates whom I share research with… also on Facebook. My point is that I can almost justify multitasking, because I have so much of my life revolving around social media’s orbit. Not only that, but it’s available in so many ways. My phone, laptop, tablet, what have you. Am I the only one who thinks so? My challenge to everyone is when we study, drive, and I would even say when we hang out with friends, make an effort to unplug as much as possible. But I think the real change comes when we discipline ourselves. It’s a process, just how we can train our brain to multitask. Do you think it’s possible to train our brains to shut that off?