A while back I posted a piece on Unnecessary Context Switches & the Myth of Multitasking looking at some of the research on the topic. The consistent result: the more things you try to do at once the worse you will perform at each of them. Despite this, many working environments expect us to constantly switch our attention and, if anything, the expectation to multi-task is increasing and more of us are succumbing. At the individual level this can be stressful and reduce satisfaction in your work. At an organizational level (and I suspect at a macro-economic level) this expectation is a drag on productivity.
I kept seeing new and interesting information and so began writing a follow-up post. Meanwhile, multi-tasking is increasingly appearing in the general lexicon and as a meme of mass advertisers where multi-tasking is a shorthand for the stress of modern life. For example, vitamins are sold as an “antidote” to multi-tasking in ads that cynically play on myths about gender and multi-tasking, and through-out it the message is that multi-tasking is stressful (that seems true), heroic (that seems stupid) and unavoidable (mostly false).
The research for this post lead instead to an exposition on the quality of media coverage of science. What started as reading about the “dumbing down” effects of multi-tasking revealed the “dumbing down” effects of media on science. That’s not surprising to most of us, but looking at the mechanics is, I think, interesting.
I should add that my motivating concern is that, in this instance, bad research and bad media coverage of research will lead to skepticism. The problem here is that solid science reaches much the same conclusion as the bad science.
Thanks to Tony C. who sent this suggestion as follow-up to the recent Social Media post:
[Disclosure: I haven’t read the book and so this is not an endorsement.]
This book deals with “Human Multitasking” – not operating systems. There is a common theme to the discussions of this book and to other content about human-multitasking. Your “cognitive attention” can be directed to any particular task but sharing attention across multiple tasks will reduce performance.