Why can’t I focus on writing this paper? No matter how hard I try, all I end up doing is playing Internet games or checking my Facebook wall.
If you find yourself asking this type of question, you may be suffering a multitasking disorder. This is the inability to focus attention on a single task and not be distracted by the desire to multitask.
So far, there hasn’t been much research completed on the newly emerging disorder. The experiments are underfunded and time intensive, but the concept is simple enough.
This disorder is caused by excessive use of multitasking, which isn’t a true skill. It is, in fact, extremely counterproductive.
Stanford University researchers studied two groups of people, chronic multitaskers and infrequent multitaskers. These two groups attempted to do simple tasks. According to Adam Gorlick from Stanford University News, the chronic media multitaskers failed to filter irrelevant information, organize their memories and switch from one activity to another faster and better than anyone else.
As I am writing this, I occasionally listen to music. It’s not too loud, but I am making more typing and grammatical mistakes than I normally would.
How is AC/DC’s Money Talks affecting my thought processes? I don’t know, but after I turn it off, I begin to return to my normal level of focus and most of my mental activity is back on track.
So, when does multitasking become a problem? Multitasking, according to Jonathan B. Spira, chief analyst at Basex, a business research firm, costs the U.S. economy about $650 billion per year.
This happens for a variety of reasons: On any given website, there are pop-ups, streaming video, audio clips or slide shows in the borders of the page just waiting to grab users’ attention with flashing lights or sexy photos and drag us into yet another world of distraction.
We want to stay on task, so we decide to keep one window open for our work and one open for what’s distracting us. Inevitably, we will start to devote more attention to the video of the back flipping dog and less attention to that research paper on the evolution of man’s best friend.
As we let our attention be diverted frequently, we let our minds split. The more we do this, the less we are able to focus on one task at a time. Focusing our attention becomes nearly impossible. Our minds are being fried slowly and we don’t even realize it.
We treat our minds as if they are computers, as if Mozilla, in our head, can keep five tabs open at once. But that eventually bogs down the system, just as in the brain.
The brain is not a computer. It needs to draw out the internal meaning of what it processes, but it can’t do this if we are trying to write a paper, read a blog, listen to our favorite radio station, text, and talk to a friend all at once.
“People can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves,” neuroscientist Earl Miller told National Public Radio.
But, the brain is very good at deluding itself, he said.
So how do we combat this plague?
It is not as difficult as you might think.
In the words of the great master Morpheus, “You must focus.”
We must put down the iPod while we are researching data and not use Facebook while we write our papers. These types of distractions are the path to confusion and failure.
Miller, a MIT professor of neuroscience, explains people basically can’t focus on more than one action at a time.
Although they may think they are multitasking, what they are doing is shifting their focus from one thing to the next with astonishing speed.
“Switching from task to task, you think you’re actually paying attention to everything around you at the same time. But you’re actually not,” Miller told NPR. “You’re not paying attention to one or two things simultaneously, but switching between them very rapidly.”
Megan Lines, along with many other students at Pierce College, has to deal with distractions from e-mail, texting and television on a daily basis.
“Interruptions from my kids broke me in business calc,” Lines said.
Even something as innocent as talking on the phone while driving can be the gateway multitask, so we should be aware of our surroundings; know what is going on around us.
Are we a generation of multitaskers?
Certainly, but that does not mean we will lose ourselves to cyberspace.
“There must always be a block of time for studying,” Lines advises.
The Puyallup Post is the award-winning student news of Pierce College Puyallup in Puyallup, Washington. Copyright The Puyallup Post 2017. Twitter/Instagram @puyalluppost