Anika manages to do so many things at the same time. She works on her science project on her computer downloads music, chats with her friends, emails others and surfs the Internet for information on her project. Not to forget the chapatti roll she makes while doing all this. Of late, we hardly get to talk to her or see her at basketball practice.
Doesn’t the multitasking feat by Anika seem familiar in our daily lives? Last month, I was given an article on multitasking by my friend, who is an educator.
She lamented the long-term problems of multitasking in young persons with regard to devices.
The article features Clifford Nass, a Stanford professor who did pioneering research about how humans interact with technology. He reported that multitasking in the modern world was not nurturing the ability to concentrate, analyse or feel empathy. In a publicised study in 2009, he reported on how multitaskers were awful at every aspect of it. Before the study began he presumed that persons who juggled computers, phones, television screens or applications were efficient. On the contrary, he found that they ignored relevant information, kept and organised information in their heads and were terrible at switching from one task to another.
An important finding was that people who multitasked less frequently were actually better at it than those who did it frequently. Nass argued that heavy multitasking shortened attention spans and the ability to concentrate in the people who do it. Not surprising how much we read today about attention deficit disorders spanning various age groups.
I found it interesting to read about Nass’s background. He was an undergraduate in mathematics and worked in computer science at Intel (helped develop the 286 processing chip). He switched from studying computers as he was drawn to sociology particularly on how people interacted with technology going on to finish his doctorate.
Sadly, Nass had a heart attack and died at the age of 55 last month.
How does Nass’s study make sense to us? We agree that our lives are increasingly screen-saturated and that the advantages of devices are here to stay, adding multiple conveniences to our daily lives.
Aren’t we instantly satiated by swishing the screen of our smartphones like waving a magic wand, or our fingers in this case? Of course, many would disagree with the aspect of simplification due to devices cribbing about how life has become hectic, anxiety ridden with the constant fidgeting with devices and gadgets in spaces that are private or public.
Talking to a real person has become boring for some and many stay hooked and cannot relax without constantly glancing at their device screens. Nass in a talk recommends that “We’ve got to make face to face time sacred and bring back the saying ‘Look at me when I talk to you’”.
Becoming aware that we are getting hooked to the hypnotic screen can be a beginning.