When Multi-Tasking Goes Awry


We have all done it. Whether it’s a Facebook check or contemplating the intricacies of “Lolcats” during class, we have all switched gears from diligently taking notes one second to feeding our curiosity the next, and back again. We have all seen that kid three rows below us, The Dark Knight playing on his screen next to lecture slides, and let’s face it, most of us were probably jealous, jealous that he gets to watch a movie in class, but also that he could divide his attention between lecture and entertainment, or so it seems.

With the advent of exciting new technologies, products, and services, it has been made increasingly easier for people to jump back and forth between one task and another. Gadgets like laptops, smartphones, and iPads, while boasting many obvious benefits when it comes to learning and studying, definitely have the potential to distract from the actual objective of learning.

In a recent New York Times article, a study by The Kaiser Family Foundation found earlier this year that half of students from 8 to 18 are using the Internet, watching TV or using some other form of media either ‘most’ (31 %) or ‘some’ (25 %) of the time that they are doing homework. This means that a large amount of students are studying while distracted by more appealing and alluring tasks like watching a YouTube video or checking for Facebook notifications.

Technological breakthroughs in accessibility are clearly changing how students learn compared to twenty or thirty years ago. Without lecture slides saved, how did students know what to study? Did they really pay attention throughout the entire class? Whatever the case, we do know that they did not have the luxury of browsing one’s latest social media websites, or watching Parkour videos on YouTube while the professor was lecturing. Even while studying at home, the most extreme examples of multitasking would have been along the lines of watching TV while reading, or cooking while studying. Since there were fewer distractions, it seems as though people were able to focus much better than students.

In 2008, the dean of the University of Chicago Law School, Saul Levmore, noted “that students may overestimate their ability to multi-task during class and that some students have expressed distraction due to their peers’ use of computers during class time,” prompting the Law School to block Internet access on campus in an effort to help students focus on their classes.

Multitasking has clearly become an easy distraction for students, a habit that can continue-on in the next generation of people in the work force. Our rapidly advancing technology is helping to nurture a new generation of jobholders that are not used to focusing on a specific task and seeing it through in the best way they can.

At a time when jobs are scarce and employers are cutting down hiring, productivity in the workplace is a massively valuable asset. A new report from Nucleus Research, an IT research company, found that companies that allow users to access Facebook in the workplace lose an average of 1.5% in total employee productivity, which shows the effect of nurturing a mindset geared toward multitasking. In essence, our ability to concentrate on a single endeavor is compromised, and the depth of our work is much shallower than it could be.

OWAIS AHMED is a fourth year English major at the University of California, Irvine

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