top of page

Multitasking is a myth

Numerous neuroscience research tells us that the brain does not perform tasks at the same time as we thought or hoped it could. Every time we switch from listening to music to writing text or talking to someone, the brain has a process of stopping and starting.

In one of the many letters he wrote to his son back in 1740, Lord Chesterfield also wrote a tip: "There is plenty of time for all the activities during the day if you are going to do them one at a time. But if you are going to do them in parallel, it will not be enough for you one year ".

For Chesterfield, a unique focus was not only a practical way of structuring time, but also a sign of intelligence. "That constant and unused attention to one subject is a sure mark of a superior genius; such as haste and nervousness, unsuccessful symptoms of a weak and frivolous mind. "

In modern times, haste and nervousness have become a regular way of life for so many people that we have embraced the word that describes our efforts to respond to the many urgent demands of our time - multitasking.

Used for decades to describe parallel computer processing capabilities, multitasking has now become an acronym for the human attempt to do as many things as possible at the same time and as quickly as possible while using as many modern technology devices as possible.

The late 1990s and early 2000s were a time of multifaceted awakening.

The word multitasking began to emerge as a “skill” in resumes as office workers were expected to be high-tech and high-performing team players.

"We are experts in multitasking - experts in piling up, pressing, packing and folding different activities in our oversized moments," wrote James Gleick in his 1999 book Faster.

But recently, challenges to the ethos of multitasking have begun to emerge. Numerous studies have shown the danger of using cell phones and other electronic devices while driving or in traffic generally.

When we talk about multitasking, we are actually talking about attention: the art of paying attention, the ability to divert our attention and, more broadly, to judge what objects are worth our attention.

People who have achieved great things and results are often called upon for their success on their own skill of keeping attention. Asked about his particular ingenuity, Isaac Newton replied that if he made any discoveries, it was "more due to the patient's attention than any other talent."

Today, our collective will to pay attention is rather weak. In the not too distant future, we may even use new devices to help us overcome the unintended attention deficits that today's devices create. Our "technology governors" will then remind us to set mental boundaries when we try to do too much, too fast, all at once.

So again, we may simply adapt and accept what James Gleick called "acquired negligence." Landing emails, constantly ringing cell phones, incessant messages coming in .. will only become background noise.

Given what neuroscience and anecdotal evidence have shown us, this state of constant intentional self-alienation could be profoundly detrimental to individual and cultural well-being.

When people do their jobs only in the "interstices of their wandering mind", with a flurry of attention focused on many competing tasks, their culture can get information, but it will certainly weaken in wisdom.

Edit: Sanja Paić

Foto: damir-kopezhanov-unsplash

12 views0 comments
bottom of page