Human Multitasking

In Ellen Goodman’s Crosscurrents essay on Multitasking, she highlights the research of Clifford Nass, a professor of human-computer interactions at Stanford. Nass led a research team that studied 100 multitasking students and went on record to say, “I don’t know that this generation values focused attention. The notion that attention is at the core of a relationship is declining.” Nass’ research showed that the multitaskers focused poorly, remembered less, and were more easily distracted. They could not shift tasks, prioritize or organize well. I must say, this research does not surprise me in the least.

Some say that the effectiveness of multitasking depends a little on timing. The student reading a textbook or listening to an audiotape or videotape while experiencing frequent interruptions can often take as much extra time as he or she needs. In other situations, however, such as a student watching a lecture or educational film or a class discussion while text messaging, the situation would not offer any option to pause the educational presentation (Pashler, 2013).

What might the long-term consequences be of human multitasking for individuals? They may result in more distracted living. Craig Wax, writer of “The Illusion of Multitasking,” coins the phrase ‘distracted living,’ as this technologic form of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). “Instead of starting and seeing a task to completion, constant interruptions, messaging, and intervening media events unnecessarily complicate the task at hand. Each project now takes much more time to complete, and more errors and omissions result from the tech multitasking” (Wax, 2012).

In some cases, however, multitasking may actually be positive. According to Wasson, writer of “Multitasking During Virtual Meetings,” multitasking during virtual meetings can be productive, as long as employees make the meeting their first priority and only multitasks when attention resources are not being utilized by the meeting (Wasson, 2004).

And what then, are the long-term consequences of human multitasking be for society? Craig Wax, states that “Civility is giving away to isolationism. Common courtesy has been reduced to uncommon or unheard-of courtesy. People have become irritable and easily annoyed by delays — and completely inconsiderate of others” (Wax, 2012). This marks the notion then, that we as as society will need to accept this or strive to change it in some way. “Would you be happy if your doctor was checking e-mail or Facebook during your surgery or office visit?,” Wax asks.

In simple terms, perhaps we need to use ‘evil’ to perform ‘good’ deeds. We can use technology by active engagement — develop strategies to engage students in sequential learning. Students need to be given problems that require computer/technology skills, and taught how to structure problems so they can solve them. We can use visual media, social media, and auditory media to stimulate their thinking (Pfohl, 2012). It sounds so crazy that it just might work.


Work Cited:
Pashler, H., Kang, S. H. K. and Ip, R. Y. (2013), Does Multitasking Impair Studying? Depends on Timing. Appl. Cognit. Psychol., 27: 593–599. doi: 10.1002/acp.2919. Retrieved from

Pfohl, B. (2012). Is multitasking helpful or harmful?. Bethesda: Retrieved from

Wasson, C. (2004). Multitasking during virtual meetings. HR.Human Resource Planning, 27(4), 47-60. Retrieved from

Wax, C. M., D.O. (2012). The illusion of multitasking. Medical Economics, 89(7), 7-8. Retrieved from

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s