Multitasking – a good or a bad thing?

Octopus_multitasking_nyt

Is our current cultural addiction to multitasking a good thing or a bad thing?  Amazing as it may seem, the jury is still out.  Some say that it is bad, and has produced a generation of young people who can’t concentrate and focus.  Others say that it is good, enhancing creativity and problem solving skills.

The question for me though is what effect multitasking has on our ability to be disciples of Jesus – since multitasking seems on the surface to be the enemy of discipline and structured spirituality.  I have been thinking about this a lot lately, and am slowly coming to grips with what I think is the answer – and hopefully I will share some of my thoughts sometime in the future….

However, with all this in mind, it was interesting to read an article in the New York Times on this very subject – well more the cultural addiction rather than the spiritual implications.  In it the author, Steven Johnson, comments on an up an coming book called called ‘The Shallows’ in which Nicholas Carr argues:

“….that the compulsive skimming, linking and multitasking of our screen reading is undermining the deep, immersive focus that has defined book culture for centuries…..Mr. Carr’s argument is that these distractions come with a heavy cost, and his book’s publication coincides with articles in various publications — including The New York Times — that report on scientific studies showing how multitasking harms our concentration.
Thus far, the neuroscience of multitasking has tended to follow a predictable pattern. Scientists take a handful of test subjects out of their offices and make them watch colored squares dance on a screen in a lab somewhere. Then they determine that multitasking makes you slightly less able to focus. A study reported on early this month found that heavy multitaskers performed about 10 to 20 percent worse on most tests than light multitaskers.
These studies are undoubtedly onto something — no one honestly believes he is better at focusing when he switches back and forth between multiple activities — but they are meaningless as a cultural indicator without measuring what we gain from multitasking

As he continues later in the article:

It’s no accident that most of the great scientific and technological innovation over the last millennium has taken place in crowded, distracting urban centers. The printed page itself encouraged those manifold connections, by allowing ideas to be stored and shared and circulated more efficiently. One can make the case that the Enlightenment depended more on the exchange of ideas than it did on solitary, deep-focus reading.
Quiet contemplation has led to its fair share of important thoughts. But it cannot be denied that good ideas also emerge in networks.
Yes, we are a little less focused, thanks to the electric stimulus of the screen. Yes, we are reading slightly fewer long-form narratives and arguments than we did 50 years ago, though the Kindle and the iPad may well change that. Those are costs, to be sure. But what of the other side of the ledger? We are reading more text, writing far more often, than we were in the heyday of television.
And the speed with which we can follow the trail of an idea, or discover new perspectives on a problem, has increased by several orders of magnitude. We are marginally less focused, and exponentially more connected. That’s a bargain all of us should be happy to make.

Any thought?

Read the full article here.

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