Losing Focus: Multitasking

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!

Enter Multitasking

thResearch 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.

Distracted Driving

untitledI 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).

Buckle Down

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?


Why don’t you like me?

I’m offering up a challenge. Right now, you’re viewing this post via laptop, desktop, mobile device, or tablet. More than likely you are currently using a combination of any aforementioned piece of technology and have multiple tabs open – and if so, one of them is guaranteed to be some kind of social media site (Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, FourSquare what have you). All I want you to think about is the last time you posted a status about your day, a photo from the weekend, shared a link, retweeted a celebrity, checked in somewhere, or snap chatted someone.

What kind of gratification do you get from posting all of that? When someone favorites it, likes it, or shares it, does it feel good to know that the people in your life seem to care about what’s going on with you? I’m certain the answer is yes. As human beings, wanting approval and connectivity with those we are surrounded by is a natural phenomenon, but research is saying that sometimes our natural desire for such approval can become a whole new craving.

Your Brain on Facebook

In an article written by Deborah Netburn in the LA Times, Harvard researchers have found through neurological testing that the same pleasure centers of our brain are activated when we share about our personal lives, receive a good paycheck, engage in sexual intimacy, even do hard drugs. The article itself has the term, “Brain Candy” in the title. No wonder critics say we culturally seem to be hooked on something so specious. In class, our professor gave us the example about self disclosure and privacy known as the Strangers On the Train phenomenon. The central idea is that we tend to feel more comfortable disclosing very intimate, personal information about ourselves to complete strangers in certain situations (such as a train ride, a flight, or a long bus ride), because we will more than likely never see that person again, which allows us to preserve anonymity. The same concept is applicable to how we conduct ourselves online. It’s easier to hide behind a keyboard when we share the most intimate details about our life with the world wide web.

Social Media and Our Ego

With the societal dominance of social media blurring the fine lines of interpersonal communication, it’s sometimes difficult to interpret messages online without seeing those non verbal cues. The same thing applies to how we present ourselves and what we put out there for everyone to see. Research is showing that there is a very intimate link between our egos and our activity of social media sites. One Huffington Post article showed the correlation between those who scored high on a test on narcissistic traits and the frequency of their Facebook activity (Chan, 2013). Parts of the psychology world says that the most affected people in this instance are those with low self esteem (even though the same research says that those with high self esteem deal with it as well, but in different ways). It seems very straight forward that those who have issues with self acceptance will have much more activity on social sites, but according to two Canadian social psychologists, Amanda L. Forest and Joanne V. Wood, it’s a little more backwards than that, concluding…

People with low self-esteem posted far more negative updates than those with high self-esteem. Forest says they described a host of unhappy sentiments, from seemingly minor things like having a terrible day or being frustrated with class schedules to more extreme feelings of rage and sorrow. (Neighond, 6).

San Diego State University psychology professor and author, Jean Twenge, says that this is the result of the culture at large, which promotes and accepts this kind of attention seeking behavior on social media sites.

I’m not saying it’s necessary to dissect all of your friend’s posts or your own, but I’m sure you would be able to pick up on certain trends that pertain to the matter. My final challenge is for you to take this as good food for thought when you scroll through your social media networks. It’s interesting when you take a step back and look through one of these lenses at your Facebook or Twitter feed.