April 11, 2007

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Scientists Expose 'Multitaskers'

Thumbing through the latest copy of New Scientist, I came across an article about multitasking. I have my own theories about this topic; in short, I think that multitaskers are actually doing several things badly at the same time.


Our faith in multitaskers is stretched to breaking point when lives are at stake

I was intrigued to find that science backs up that view. If you really believe in true multitasking, then surely you'll have no problem getting into a car with a driver who can talk on the phone and drive at the same time. No? Didn't think so.

And one could hardly blame you. Last year about 400 people were killed or injured in the UK by drivers using mobile phones.

The research bears out that we really aren't capable of thinking about several things at once. Well, not consciously, at any rate. Right now my body is doing many things simultaneously. It's regulating my heart rate and my breathing, for example. And I'm typing this blog post at the same time. So technically I'm multitasking.

The trick seems to be that our subconscious minds can do many things at once. The whole problem starts when we have to be aware of what we're doing. So someone who can play the chords to Hard Day's Night in their sleep can probably sing along to their own accompaniment, because only one of those actions requires their conscious attention. So if we practice, practice and practice some more we can learn to do multiple simple repetitive tasks at once.

Any job demanding enough to require your conscious attention - like driving a car or developing software, for example - should therefore not be amenable to multitasking.

This lends more weight to my belief that our entire macho work ethic - and in particular "face time", multitasking and the never-ending quest for "better, faster, cheaper", is dysfunctional and may be damaging both our health and our wealth.
Posted 13 years, 9 months ago on April 11, 2007