Monday, February 1, 2010

What's the Harm in Multitasking?

Consider the following:
  • Kids from ages 8-18 spend an average of 7.5 hours a day with media (internet, ipods, touchphones, etc.), but since they multitask between their phones, computer, ipods, and TV, they pack 10 hours and 45 minutes of media into the 7.5 hours spent. (See the Kaiser Family Foundation study at
  • The average person spends only 2 seconds per web page when searching for information (Sprenger, 2009 in Educational Leadership quoting Small & Vorgan, 2008 in iBrain).
  • According to brain research, when someone tries to concentrate on two tasks at one time, the brain activation is much less than when concentrating on one task at a time (
Fusing these facts together reveals to me that kids spend a lot of time multitasking media, moving quickly as they multitask, but thinking deeply about very little of it. Is is any wonder that students have trouble making good grades when study sessions include interruptions of instant messaging and Facebook postings? Homework, sometimes, is just one of the many things they are doing simultaneously. I realize some people proudly herald their ability to multitask. And in some cases, it is a great skill to acquire; but it does not permit deep thinking.

There is another problem with multitasking: it wastes time. Some view this "talent" as a tool enabling them to accomplish more in the same amount of time. But when the task at hand (i.e. studying, homework, reading) requires deep thinking, the task takes longer. Switching from surface level thinking to reflective concentration requires switching to a different area of the brain. Constant switching from socializing or being entertained with media to school work takes time as the brain switches over. Sometimes, paragraphs have to be re-read or math problems must be re-calculated. It takes a couple minutes to refresh your memory about what you were doing before you switched.

Perhaps Psalms repeatedly speaks about meditation because the Creator who wired our brains understands what it takes to really "get it." Regardless of what "it" is, it takes reflection. If the task is important, then it should get our full attention. Whether the task at hand is Bible reading, math problems, or science projects, spend time reflecting and resist the urge to multitask. Turn off the cell phone, ipod, CD player, computer, TV, and video games. Dedicate your time to getting it done effectively and within a reasonable amount of time.

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