Food For Thought: Multitasking

question mark“I begin, a little sheepishly, with a question that strikes me as sensationalistic, nonscientific, and probably unanswerable by someone who’s been professionally trained in the discipline of cautious objectivity: Are we living through a crisis of attention?

Before I even have a chance to apologize, Meyer responds with the air of an Old Testament prophet. “Yes,” he says. “And I think it’s going to get a lot worse than people expect.” He sees our distraction as a full-blown epidemic—a cognitive plague that has the potential to wipe out an entire generation of focused and productive thought. He compares it, in fact, to smoking. “People aren’t aware what’s happening to their mental processes,” he says, “in the same way that people years ago couldn’t look into their lungs and see the residual deposits.”

I ask him if, as the world’s foremost expert on multitasking and distraction, he has found his own life negatively affected by the new world order of multitasking and distraction.

“Yep,” he says immediately, then adds, with admirable (although slightly hurtful) bluntness: “I get calls all the time from people like you. Because of the way the Internet works, once you become visible, you’re approached from left and right by people wanting to have interactions in ways that are extremely time-consuming. I could spend my whole day, my whole night, just answering e-mails. I just can’t deal with it all. None of this happened even ten years ago. It was a lot calmer. There was a lot of opportunity for getting steady work done.”

-Sam Anderson, interviewing “multitasking expert” David Meyer in the article In Defense of Distraction.  Read more here.

“The next generation, presumably, is the hardest-hit. They’re the ones way out there on the cutting edge of the multitasking revolution, texting and instant messaging each other while they download music to their iPod and update their Facebook page and complete a homework assignment and keep an eye on the episode of The Hills flickering on a nearby television. (A recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 53 percent of students in grades seven through 12 report consuming some other form of media while watching television; 58 percent multitask while reading; 62 percent while using the computer; and 63 percent while listening to music. “I get bored if it’s not all going at once,” said a 17-year-old quoted in the study.) They’re the ones whose still-maturing brains are being shaped to process information rather than understand or even remember it.”

-Walter Kirn, The Autumn of The Multitaskers.  Read more here.

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