What Are The Long Term Effects For A Generation Of Multitaskers?

from the complexity-is-too-time-consuming dept

It seems that there have been any number of news articles recently trying to stir up lots of worries over technologies kids use today -- such as MySpace, instant messaging/SMS text messaging and other such tools. For the most part, these articles often seem overblown, in the same way that people fretted about what rock music was doing to kids a few decades ago. While there is some of that in this week's Time cover story, the article does raise a few interesting questions about the long term effects of constant multitasking. It's been repeated so many times by now, that many simply take it as a fact that today's kids are able to multitask constantly -- watching TV while they IM, surf the web, upload photos and maybe (if there's time) do a bit of their homework. While it may be true that many do this, it doesn't necessarily mean that they're really better at multitasking. They've just gotten used to it. Recent studies suggest that while they may not get overwhelmed like their elders, there are downsides. They don't do a much better job of processing information and may have a lot more trouble processing complex information. Obviously, it would be good if there were a lot more research to back these findings up (and, no doubt, plenty of it is on the way). So far, though, while being better at multi-tasking certainly is likely to have some advantages, the research suggests it comes with a very real cost.


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  1.  
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    JimsTacosandHardware, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 3:51am

    kids....

    Darn whipper snappers! Back in my day we only had a 1 line bbs and there was definately no multi-tasking going on while trying to download porn on a 2400 baud modem!

     

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    emma, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 4:08am

    gosh

    Gosh pal!!!! The new generation has gone out of our control. My god the gadgets they use are impossible!!

    Uff!! these kids!!

     

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    a kid, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 4:18am

    Work

    Multi-tasking is why I'm up at 4:18 am trying to do my homework.

     

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    Andrew Pollack, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 4:51am

    Actually, it makes for a more balanced society

    The way people pay attention and the things each person brain is most suited to focus on are different. For about the last fifty to eighty years there has been a decided advantage to those most able to focus on a single task and tune out other things -- classroom based work, office work in a large open office area, etc. Those less inclined to this kind of work were labeled with ADHD, which is actually just a difference in the kinds of things they are best able to handle. ADHD types are very much favored by the kinds of work multitaskers make more common. The home office with a dozen ongoing projects, lots of experimentation and self study, new concepts and innovations -- these technologies provide a means to involve more people in jobs they are best suited for.

    Its a good thing.

     

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    me, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 4:59am

    More flexibility and brain powered

    I also believe that being able to move between activities will help these kids when they become adults and have to do just that. Also, it will keep their minds active into old age, which may help with diseases such as Alzheimers.

     

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    Swati, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 5:02am

    Re: Work

    Amen.

     

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    DV Henkel-Wallace, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 5:19am

    Err, TV

    Sounds like a real problem. Didn't Time have a cover story on the same issue in the 1960s when TVs became widespread and kids did their homework with it on? And what about that radio -- the devil's work, I tell you -- kids would get together in mixed company, listen to their '45s or that radio thing and talk and pretend to do their homework?

    Slow news day at Time, I think.

     

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    a kid, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 5:20am

    Re: Re: Work

    God I got distracted by that laser link ad...
    review of past hour
    -laserz!!! 0_o
    -click*
    -$3,500 OMGWTFBBQ
    -looks up a 8 watt laz0r*
    -omg $25,000 BBQZZZ
    -adds to bookmark*
    -sees other bookmarks*
    -clicks*
    -try's to get game to work right*
    -fails*
    -closes tabs*
    -find this page again 0_O

     

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    thecaptain, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 5:32am

    They don't do a much better job of processing information and may have a lot more trouble processing complex information

    I have much anecdotal evidence of this. We hire many people just out of school (I'm not THAT much older...but figure late thirties vs early twenties) and I find that almost all of them have ZERO analytical skills and zero intuition about the work they are meant to do.



    Here's a real life example from back when I was taking my introduction to programming class years ago...it applies to what I'm seeing every day:



    In class:



    We were taught to add numeric values in variables together.
    We were taught to substract, multiply and divide them
    We were taught to display the variables
    We were taught to request user input to assign values to variables.



    Simple no? It was a small class module...



    Now the test for that module, 1 question:



    Write a calculator program.



    Out of 35 people in the course, 28 failed. After class they whined and screamed the EXACT SAME THING:



    "BUT WE WEREN'T TAUGHT HOW TO PROGRAM A CALCULATOR! ITS SOOOO UNFAIR!"



    ----


    I'm running into this daily at work. I can teach A, B and C to a new trainee, but any situation that requires D (which is a simple combination of A,B and C) they are completely unable to deal with.

     

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    Jimmy Bear Pearson, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 6:02am

    Multi-tasking good, lack of rest/patience bad...

    I think that having people who can handle more stimuli at the same time is probably a good thing.


    A downside is that the majority of people I know don't get enough sleep. They generally don't have enough time for their body to regenerate, and they don't take into account that body burnout is a bad thing.


    Concentration: I have an overly-active mind, so I can relate to the desire or need to do lots of different things. However, our multi-tasking world does not make for teaching patience or the ability to stick to a task that takes a while to get done.


    Ultimately, a person who is satisfied with their life must have some level of patience and the ability to sustain concentration. This, I think, is the greatest shortcoming of our on-demand, instant-on world.

     

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    Jimmy Bear Pearson, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 6:02am

    Multi-tasking good, lack of rest/patience bad...

    I think that having people who can handle more stimuli at the same time is probably a good thing.

    A downside is that the majority of people I know don't get enough sleep. They generally don't have enough time for their body to regenerate, and they don't take into account that body burnout is a bad thing.

    Concentration: I have an overly-active mind, so I can relate to the desire or need to do lots of different things. However, our multi-tasking world does not make for teaching patience or the ability to stick to a task that takes a while to get done.

    Ultimately, a person who is satisfied with their life must have some level of patience and the ability to sustain concentration. This, I think, is the greatest shortcoming of our on-demand, instant-on world.

     

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    discojohnson, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 6:30am

    I thought about it...

    i was originally going to play devil's advocate and support multi-tasking like #4. i agree that ADHD kids don't need drugs, they just need a different style of education and different jobs (no offense, but someone has to work at whataburger and be lawyer secretaries). but for me and mine, i try hard to impress completion of one job them moving to the next, attention to detail, etc in my kids. i'd like to see the long term effects of that style vs the instant gratification generation and see how many are able to have a higher standard of living and have happy lives (the two are not necessarily intertwined)

     

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    TheDirector, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 6:32am

    Re:

    Agree 100% with thecaptain. By far, most of the 20-29 year olds that have worked for me have been, well, Lazy. I got to the top by taking extra on-call shifts, working 18 hours a day when it was needed. But when I ask this younger group for extra effort, "Can't today boss-man, gotta play Warcraft tonight." Also, when I give them a simple task thinking, "There's no way they can screw this up." they prove me wrong and screw it up. They don't think through the process. I ask for documentation of a process and I get this: "Open Admin console, fix user, close console." Great! To top it all off then they scream, "But I'm certified!" Big Fat Hairy deal....that only proves that you can take a test. I'll take a guy with 5 years of experience and no certs over a newbie with a MCSE.

    -Soap box time expired.....please insert 25 cents for another 5 minutes......

     

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    dirtyzero, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 6:57am

    Re: Work

    man me to I just got a palm pilot to help me strem line my activities ( but jeez its hard to do one thing at a time )

     

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    shiz, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 6:59am

    Re: Actually, it makes for a more balanced society

    self study and lots of projects got me kicked out of computer enginneering program at Uc santabarbra. dooing one thing at a time is really usefull especially if your already very smart.

     

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    Frank J. Mattia, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 7:05am

    i think that

    we should just all kill ourselves and let the next degeneration have to deal with the problem of cleaning up our bodies...

    then when the mass of dead people gets to be unbearable - they too will kill themselves in order to seek relief from all the death... then the world will be at peace again.

    g'night.

     

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    kerkain, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 7:08am

    Work

    I hate to multitask, Id rather get one task done then move to the next. It bugs me a lot whenever I have 3 or 4 different things piled on my desk and only a little bit of each one is done of each part. Im more likely to forget what Ive already done with one part and get it messed up somehow. So Ill just finish up one at a time, get it finished and be done with it.

    @thecaptain & TheDirector
    Im 20 years old, taking courses in computer programming finishing up in Sept for associate... I may be young, but from what ive read Ive got a lot better analytical skills then the kids your hiring, it might take me a bit of time, but by gosh it gets done! Ill replace them ;-D (No Certs either... yet)

     

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    Crazoo, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 7:10am

    "Techno Stress"

    "Techno stress" as it's often referred to.

    I for one can not, or find it hard to focus on one task at a time just because I'm so used to multi tasking. If I'm working on just one task, it feels like I'm slacking and I feel I should be working on a bunch of things at the same time.

    Lately, I've actually been trying to just focus on one task and not get carried away. So as it's really easy to learn to multi task (especially for this generation) it's difficult to scale back and learn to work and focus on one task only.

     

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    none, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 7:14am

    What?!

    What multitasking is involved in surfing myspace, chatting, uploading a photo or downloading an mp3? It can't be considered a task. A task is trying to create a website, or filing your taxes online, anything that involves actually use of your brain.

     

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  20.  
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    dani, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 7:17am

    Multi-tasking is and has been a way of life

    I watched my 3 kids as I was reading this. They are watching tv (Noggin is awesome educational tv for anyone with small children btw). While they watch tv, the oldest is playing with cars; the middle one is drawing & cutting; and the youngest is trying to find a way to take her brothers cars without getting caught - but they all know exactly what's going on with the show.

    We are born with an ability to handle more than one task at a time...anyone with children should agree. Multi-tasking is a good thing, as long as people can decide to give their full attention to situations that need it.

     

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    Pete, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 7:28am

    it's not always the kids

    This is mostly in response to thecaptain's post about his programming class.

    I'm a 17 year old in high school, and I know exactly what you mean. I'm currently in AP Calculus AB and just finished learning about finding volume between two points of a function, including whether or not it's solid or hollow in the middle. Before this, my class was taught integrands, sigma notation, etc., but when it came to figuring out the radii or the hollow shape and the solid, they went bonkers.

    Most of my classmates argued that the teacher didn't teach us well enough how to do it, which is quite true. But those same people never bothered to read the book when they needed help. Moreover, they still process information as the following:
    if A + B = C,
    andA=3
    and B=3
    then C = 6.
    Logic to them is simple inputs of numerical values.

    I am embarassed by them because I'm one of the few teenagers who looks outside of the box. The test we took for Calculus was something I wasn't prepared for -- I failed to complete two homework assignments and didn't study. I, however, learned on the spot how to figure the problems out. There was nothing complicated about it.

     

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    Zeroth404, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 7:40am

    "may have a lot more trouble processing complex information"

    Thats funny, most people I know of the MySpace generation can't handle simple mathematical problems. what do you consider "complex information"?

    Don't expect too much out of these people.

     

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  23.  
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    Ana, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 7:50am

    Re : it's not always the kids

    Techdirt guys, you should take note, the kids don't just multitask in AIM, photos and mySpace. They also read TechDirt !
    I never thought they did.. I guess I am getting older..

     

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  24.  
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    dnatoday, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 8:06am

    Re: I thought about it...

    This is a bit off the mark. My husband has extreme ADD & works as an engineering tech in R&D. He does well exploring different ways to build thing better, but sux at any production-related tasks. In fact, the ability to hyperfocus on things is a hallmark of ADD. I think I have a bit of the ADD myself (my daughter has just been diagnosed, so we are getting all up on the research) and I know that doing two things at once SEEMS like a good idea but can be a disaster if you are trying to do two complicated things at one.

    I find that one thing that the younger generation is NOT taught is how to make routines-- how to organized their life so that the simple things (getting dressed, picking up after yourself) fall into place everyday so you can focus on the important things (homework or someday a job). When we give my daughter a routine, she shines. Without it, we are all lonely planets off on our own orbits.

     

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    Erik Liberg, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 8:06am

    Why

    More power to us My computer is really slow so why I am trying to upload a webpage I watch T.V. And when that goes ob break I do a couple of HW problems and repete... Works really well...

     

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    Soxgal, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 8:13am

    lazy 20-somethings

    It's not fair to generalize about the 20-something generation. While many of us are lazy, there's another segment with a very strong work ethic. To be able to be productive while simultaneously performing other tasks does take some sort of skill. Time managment. Responsibility for own actions. A sense of ownership, pride, and loyalty.

    I don't think it's the available media that make us this way. Where are the strong parental influences in giving kids a foundation in these skills that make them well-rounded individuals? Where's the sense of responsibility? It starts with giving kids attention, caring about their education, and unfortunately, it seems that as the generations move on, parents are less and less involved with their children.

     

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    A Comp. Eng., Mar 20th, 2006 @ 8:22am

    Kids^wAdolescents these days

    I graduated recently with a B.S. in Computer Engineering. I will agree that most adolescents are incapable of properly aggregating the skills they have acquired in order to synthesize solutions for problems they were not prepared to do.

    My Calc III prof once said he was amazed by the student's abilities to recall specific problems from the homework, and their inability to adjust for differences from the homework for a test. However, I never really did the homework and instead chose to focus my attention on the lecture, so I didn't have to worry about recalling the previous problem's structure since I had true comprehension of the material. It was the same with my programming and engineering courses.

    The problem is that not everyone is capable of being a programmer or an engineer. I'm hyperanalytical, so I'm well-tuned to this type of work. However, they make weed out courses to they can separate those who don't stand a chance from those who do. The problem is that profs don't want to fail students, so they give them a false approval by barely passing them with a C.

     

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    thecaptain, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 9:08am

    Re: Kids^wAdolescents these days

    The problem is that not everyone is capable of being a programmer or an engineer. I'm hyperanalytical, so I'm well-tuned to this type of work.

    I'm glad to see in all the responses that I'm not alone in what I've observed, but I wanted to respond to this quote.

    Yes, I'm a systems analyst and I was referring mostly to an IT environment, but make no mistake, this has NOTHING to do with someone being capable of being a programmer or not. Many of the tasks I'm talking about aren't about programming...they simply require a little thought and the ability to put 2 and 2 together.

    Heck, our best employee to date was someone I took a chance on, an older guy (my age) who has NO programming experience but has a good head on his shoulders. He has general computing experience but none programming (as opposed to the people we usually hire, who are graduates in Computer Science and such). Since we have some pretty esoteric setups, even graduates need to learn it from scratch so as I said, I took a chance.

    Well in 6 months, he can administer and troubleshoot our systems better than 2 younger people who have been with us for FOUR YEARS!

    I've noticed one thing different...when I teach him something, he watches what I'm doing and asks question...when one of the other guys or girls do it...first thing they do is pull out a notepad, and write down everything I do....when something happens (and it frequently does) that doesn't fit into that step by step itinerary they wrote down...they freeze and shut off and call me...whereas this guy...took the trouble to understand what I was doing..and can think outside the box.

    I don't know if its because of school, or media or whatever, I think most younger people I run into today aren't lazy but sadly cannot think. They think they can, but they have EXTREMELY little analytical skills...its such a relief when I DO meet some who DO have them...gives me hope.

     

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    chaalz, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 9:51am

    Re: Re: Kids^wAdolescents these days

    I agree. I also agree with the poster that would take experience over certificates any day. Unfortunately this implies (at least to the younger generation) that school isnt important...which to me reveals the root of the problem. Kids think school is going to teach them EXACTLY WHAT they need to know, and fail to understand that school is really there to teach you HOW TO THINK.

    Take me for example, I was taught C++ in school (1998 grad). I HAVE NEVER written a piece of C++ code in my professional life. On the surface, you would think that I wasted 4 years of time and money in college. But I didnt. My job required my to go learn Java, PHP, Rexx, etc and based on the FOUNDATION I got in school, I was able to master the skills I need.

    And I disagree with the person that implied that single-tasking is scaled back. I'm a darn good developer and whether I'm doing 1 or 3 complex tasks, my mind is still giving 200% to get the job done on time and with high quality. Noting scaled back with my 60 hour weeks.

    Above the whole multi-tasking issue, I think is the issue of a good work ethic and even further a good life ethic. For example 2 employees I know started working for $40k. Six years later one is at $61k while the other is at $82k. They could both multi-task equally the same...the difference was how well they applied what they had learned and how responsible they were (as perceived by the person giving the raises).

    Overall, I think today's kids have the best opportunity I've ever seen in a generation. I'm truly happy for them. Let's help them realize this. Damn, saying that makes me feel old (and I'm only 28). lol.

     

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    Matt, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 9:58am

    Wasn't there a study recently about how many people actually use common sense? I'm 17 and still in high school, and as a student I can tell you why there are so many problems. Teachers don't encourage common sense, they want you to follow a simple set of rules to get to an answer. In math class, if you try solving a problem using a different method then the one they gave, you'll be told you're doing it wrong. The answer will be the same, but as long as you're thinking for yourself you're doing it wrong. It's ridiculous.

    People conform to this method, because teachers are obviously omniscient . The working world tends to interview people with credentials, it's a habit of our prerequisite based society. If a hundred people apply for a job, the first ones that are interviewed will be the people with credentials. If there's time, or you haven't filled the spot yet, then the rest will be interviewed.

    Society is creating a breed of human computers, capable of solving something only if there's explicit instructions on how to do so. The fact that you HAVE to go to college, or have a piece of paper saying you're capable of doing what you say is forcing the people with enough common sense to figure things out to waste their gift unless they have enough money to get the said paper.

    In my opinion it's ridiculous.

     

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    Zeroth404, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 10:05am

    dnatoday,

    Attention Deficit Disorder -- Deficit, meaning "Inadequacy or insufficiency." How could someone have the "ability to hyper focus" and have "Attention Deficit" at the same time? Maybe I just dont understand ADD.

    "I think I have a bit of the ADD myself (my daughter has just been diagnosed"

    Be careful that you dont misinterpret your personality traits as a disorder. There's extreme debate over whether or not ADD is a disorder, or if it even exists at all.

    Shooting riddlin pills down your throat just so you can control your attention (ie, to od better in school) is nothing more than drug abuse (and not even an enjoyable one!).

    Kid + riddlin = better in academics.
    Kid + steroids = better in sports. I see no difference.

     

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    Zeroth404, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 10:11am

    Re:

    "Teachers don't encourage common sense"

    Common Sense is what tells us the world is flat.

    I'm not sure where I heard that, but it proves a point.

     

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    farlane, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 10:15am

    Makes sense

    So ... Kids these days don't get overwhelmed by information but they don't understand it as well?

    IF that's true, it would make sense.

    Information overload is caused by the brain trying to process information (rather than by just being exposed to lots of information). Shutting down in the face of an information stream that is too complex would be a logical defense mechanism to develop in response to regularly being confronted by more information than you can handle. Somebody who grew up doing this as a matter of course would be less able to handle complex information.

     

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    Just something to say, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 10:37am

    this topic

    I happen to believe that it boils down to laziness, not a difference in the ability to multi-task. Sure, it's a good thing to learn how to cope with many projects at once ... as long as you can learn to finish at least the majority of them. And sure, it's good to be able to concentrate on only one thing, but you can quickly develop into someone who can't accomplish simple tasks with any distractions/interruptions. I'm from the 20-29 group and I don't feel the increase in stimulous doesn't has an overarching negative effect. What does have a negative effect is a generation of wealthy parents who don't teach their kids about the importance of hard work and dicipline. And a generation of lazy kids who have access to the type of technological instant gratification that reinforces these problems.

    That's it for me,
    Thanks

     

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    Eric, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 10:40am

    Multi-tasking

    Most people can handle two or three tasks at once. I don't think that there's really any difference between generations and this regard. To suggest otherwise would be to suggest that some evolutionary shift occurred in our brain in the space of a single generation, which isn't likely.

    The big difference, IMHO, isn't the ability to multi-task but rather comfortableness with certain tasks.

    Most kids today grew up with computers, more or less. There's an inherent familiarity with them, its well learned and ingrained, and just doesn't take that much (cognitively speaking) for them to use. For someone who's less familiar, it takes more concentration, so they can't multi-task when these are one of the elements nearly as well.

    Case in point:

    Most kids IM and watch TV at the same time.

    Most adults need their full concentration to IM. They're not comfortable flipping between windows, typing without looking, the various screen messages that might appear, etc. That's the difference.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 11:21am

    Yes, it MUST be the fault of the companies that create this insidious electronic devices. It CAN'T possibly be the fault of the parents that purchase the devices for their children and don't put any limits on the usage of these devices by their children.

    Parents, just sit back and relax. Don't take any responsibility or blame. It is clearly the responsibility of the GOVERNMENT to protect your children and to establish proper guidelines for them.

     

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    Brandy, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 11:38am

    I'm watching TV, eating lunch, working on a flash program, trying to find a topic for an essay, and I'm on AIM while reading this. I can do this, and I can do it quite well.
    I also agree that the concept of something is more important, and often lost in multi-tasking. In learning languages I know that it is especially important (whether programming or foreign language). In some things however, it is not as important. But while I'm doing something just to get it done, and not thinking about it at all because I'm instead thinking about what somebody just said to me and the TV show I'm watching....I do not get the concept at all. I'm learning pretty much nothing from it.

    I also go for instant gratification over long-term. 99 percent of the time I'm happy.

    But what the difference is between me and alot of people my age (18) is I know when to focus on one thing specifically. I can turn off the TV, sign off AIM and pay attention when I need to. And I know when to do that.

     

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    Imtiaz, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 11:44am

    Its generally believed that kids who grow up in an environment that fosters multitasking abilities come at a cost of thinking deeply about anything. The mind may be used to being switched constantly between different ideas and not really focusing on any one thing too long. That can be detrimental in activities where concentration is needed, such as higher learning. It's interesting, but generally you'll find older people (60+) that can watch a television talk that might make pbs where there is a single topic whether politics or economics etc. and its discussed at length. Older folks tend to be able to focus in on that one topic for the whole show; the younger generations would likely get fidgety and flip the channel.

     

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    the young biz owner, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 11:45am

    Multi-Tasking - NO, Multi-Talented - YES!

    I have been an entrep. since I can remember. I love business and alwasy have. This is why at the tender age of 27 I been apart of at least 8 business ownerships, and that doesn't include "home-based" biz ops either. Currently I have three business (1 e-biz, and 2 brick & mortar).

    I say all that to say this: In all my experience with staffing, one of the major things I hate and discourge is multi-tasking.

    I tell all my employees that if they are good at "multi-tasking" (a catch phrase on resumes for the past 10 years), they need to turn it into "multi-talented".

    Why you ask?

    Simple. Multi-taskers do many things quickly, but at the expense of quality. Multi-talented workers do high quality work (right the first time) over a longer period of time. I have found that it is easier to teach multi-talented people to become more time efficient than it is to teach multi-taskers how to do things better.

    Multi-talented people are able to focus on the task at hand, ignore distractions, and produce quality. In fact, it would be better to called it multi-skilled since "talent" has more to do with apptitudes and skill is more education and practice.

    I do not agree with the fad of "anti-technology" that seems to permiate the multi-tasking publicity. I am one of the many that are "tech junkies". However, I belive more effort should be spent on teaching the up-and-comers the difference between personal tasks and professional/eduational tasks. Multi-tasking is fine when you are IMing, TMing, iPoding, and vid gaming, but when it comes time for homework, research, employment, etc, multi-skilled needs to kick in.

    Its amazing to me how "jack of all trades" has become synonymous with a multi-tasker that does a lot of things with average quality. Why can't it mean someone who is multi-skilled and can do many things better than most? Let's all stop encouraging this lazy behaviour/mentality and be a part of the revolution! The human mind can take it, I promise. Focus, focus, focus; learn, learn, learn, then practice, practice, practice!

    You to can be a multi-skilled person when it matters, and a multi-tasker when it doesn't!

     

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    Brandi, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 11:47am

    I am 24 and the sole web developer for the company that I work for, I am also responsible for assisting the help desk with any problems that arise that they can't handle. Although I would be considered part of the "multi-tasking" generation, I don't think that has helped me in anyway. I was raised with a very structured and organized lifestyle and that is reflected in my work.

    You may have 20 things going on but you can only deal with one at a time.

     

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    WebDev Youngin', Mar 20th, 2006 @ 11:53am

    To multitask or not to multitask...

    Well, I've made it to the end of this massive page of comments, and I find myself agreeing with most of them. Similar to thecaptain, however, I've got some anecdotal evidence for & against the original article.

    I've hired(and fired) web developers ranging from 17 to 50+ years old. From taking on interns to doubling the size of the department a couple of times. I've found truth to be truth, across the board. There are lazy, paycheck players in every generation and in every field. What makes a person valuable are the loyalty they show the company, the propensity they have for truly learning new things, and the ability to apply those textbook/onscreen skills in a real life atmosphere.

    It would be wonderful to know which of the employees that come to me for interviews are actually blowing smoke and which ones have the ability to do the job well. Unfortunately for business-owners and managers, the only true test of an employee is to hire them and give them a shot. They will generally prove themselves or not during the first decent-sized project they're asked to handle on their own.

    I walked into my first job in IT, starting as less than a peon, and soon became head of a new department. My work ethic on the job and the knowledge I'd gleaned from my courses in college, more than the almost completed degree (paper), got me my job. To this day, my degree is the only credential I have, aside from almost 6 years of web development/management experience with a single company and a string of websites built in my "spare time".

    Desirable traits exist in people of all ages, I guess, as do undesirable ones.

     

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    dnatoday, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 11:53am

    hyperfocusing

    Attention Deficit Disorder -- Deficit, meaning "Inadequacy or insufficiency." How could someone have the "ability to hyper focus" and have "Attention Deficit" at the same time? Maybe I just dont understand ADD.

    You don't. http://www.sdc.org/~pwolf/addpost.html or http://borntoexplore.org/addtg.htm

    Most people with ADD don't have a problem with giving things attention. They just don't want to give attention to what who ever is in charge wants them to attend to.

    "I think I have a bit of the ADD myself (my daughter has just been diagnosed"

    Be careful that you dont misinterpret your personality traits as a disorder. There's extreme debate over whether or not ADD is a disorder, or if it even exists at all.

    I see in myself that my here-to-fore smuggly touted ability to multi-task really is because I need to be doing two things at once (knitting & reading, talking on the phone & making dinner, writing a spec & reading dumb on-line articles) in order to be able to focus on the main task. In meetings, I take exmplary notes. Really detailed, outlined, highlighted notes. The head of the department, when she can't make it to a meeting, wants MY notes to know what went on. Why do I do this? Otherwise I couldn't stop my mind from racing long enough to understand the content of the meeting. For me, taking the notes is the physical activity I need to do in order to mentally process the conversations.

    And, my kid isn't on drugs. She is on routines, low sugar, no tv and love.

     

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    Ponder, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 11:54am

    So ...

    I watch TV and post here and on Slashdot in the ads. I'm also downloading files, and keeping our home network running (more computers than users, but all different). Do you talk while you work? How is IMing different to talking? (in this case?) But I can still do one thing at a time, I can only write essays and program while only doing that.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 12:07pm

    Re:

    perhaps you're hiring the wrong sorts of people.

    articles like these are unfair to those of us that can do multiple activities at once and excel.

    didn't your mom cook and clean at the same time? both were done well i'm sure.

     

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  45.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 12:10pm

    Re: Re:

    If you think teachers are teaching something wrong, become a teacher.

     

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    Zeroth404, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 12:21pm

    dnatoday,

    "Most people with ADD ... don't want to give attention to what who ever is in charge wants them to ..."

    Thats another reason people want to slap the label "disordered" on anyone that doesn't want to focus on boring tasks. However, I don't doubt that this might not be your case, I just see far too often people with a personality quirk blame it on a disorder. Its just silly hypochondriacism, an quite an epidemic.

     

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    dnatoday, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 12:51pm

    Re: Zeroth404

    Zeroth404,
    What the heck are you talking about? Did you even READ what I wrote?

    I don't think my kid, my husband or myself are disordered. Common convention uses the word ADD to discribe someone who is not focusing on what the herd is supposed to be focusing on at the moment. There is a different way of thinking and relating to tasks that is not typically rewarded in schools or even some workplaces. But it isn't hypochondriacism, faking it or being lazy. It is a different way of thinking.

    Just because it isn't YOUR way of thinking doesn't mean you can just write it off. I agree that ADD is diagosed for people who don't really have a problem-- parents who can't bear to think they may have an "Average" kid will want to blame it on a disorder rather than just accept thier kid is a C student not an A. But really, there are people out there who think different.

    I am highly successful, my husband is too, we have a kid who is well-liked and happy in school. We are busy in our community, temple and school. You wouldn't look at us and say "There goes a family with ADD", nor is it the way my husband or child thinks of themselves. But if I used words like "hyperfocused" from the start you would have NO IDEA what I was talking about (as you evidenced in a previous comment). So I used the conventional word and you jump on me for over-diagnosing a situation you clearly don't understand.

    People got to do what they got to do. Sometimes it's two things at once. I like who ever said multi-talented, bucause that is a term I would use for anyone in my family. I'm proud that my kid has never sat around the house "bored" because she has the iniative & follow-through to learn all the planets (in order!) by the time she was three, or can tell you anything you want to know about ladybugs & aphids (she is 8 now).

    Don't pass judgement until you have walked a mile in her shoes. You might be surprized.

     

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  48.  
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    marshall, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 12:55pm

    i just did it...

    I just read this while watching tv, IMing, checking my email and talking on the phone... hmm... Haha, gotta love being 16.

    But wait, what are the risks and effects that this can cause me?

     

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  49.  
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    Zeroth404, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 1:05pm

    "Don't pass judgement until you have walked a mile in her shoes. You might be surprized." I'll say it again: I don't doubt that this might not be your case Read my post again, I've judged no one.

     

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  50.  
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    dnatoday, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 1:12pm

    Z-
    You are right. Double negatives can be so confusing! You must forgive me because I was writing a doc, IMing, checking my email and listening to wmbr.org.

    It's hard to always have to be an advocate for a differing perspective, especially when many people thinks they know all about it, and therefore they can make judgements.

    keep fighting the good fight.
    d

     

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  51.  
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    Zeroth404, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 1:15pm

    dnatoday,

    It happens :-)

     

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  52.  
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    Ron A. Thompson, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 2:10pm

    Both Multitasking/Concentration are Important

    I believe both aspects are very important to keep in mind. In my experience with multitasking, which I do very often, I can get a whole lot of systematic and simple tasks done in a very condensed and simple fashion, saving a whole bunch of time.

    Although, I've found that multitasking at times can severely slow some of the more elaborate and difficult tasks, if I were to take them up. Such as if I had programming code to complete, I'd rather focus all my attention towards shooting it down and getting the code done with, rather than stretching it out while multitasking, with things I don't nessisarily have to do (listen to music, chat with people on ICQ, download whatever). These things I can do later, and if I do this in this fashion, the mental strain is severely lessened.

    This is also true with my recreational drawing/writing. I tend to be a whole lot more productive when I choose to focus on what I'm doing specifically rather than trying to do many things at once.

    Athough this is true though, some tasks are just so simple and repetative in some cases, that not multitasking would be a waste of your capabilities and time. It's distincting whether to do so or not, is what is primarily important.

     

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  53.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 3:10pm

    nice debate...too long....just do it

    I read all of the posts above...It gave me a headache...Do I win a prize?
    Oh yeah....I'm 25...don't program like the rest of you guys..and I'm a multitasker....I do good work, get promotions, blah blah...you can't stereotype everybody in their 20s....it's like saying that all mexicans pick fruit or build houses....just not cool....forgot the point i was tryin to make....just kidding...no wait....

     

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    Whinging Idiot, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 7:40pm

    Multi Tasking does not exist

    The human brain is no more capable of true multitasking than a single CPU is. The mind only focuses on one thing at a time. If that thing isn't particularly taxing, a new thing can be brought into focus fairly rapidly, so and illusion of multitasking is created. Kids these days are no more capable in this regard than their parents. Multitasking is a buzz word only - it's paying attention that is the difficult thing.

     

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    Kiah, Mar 20th, 2006 @ 7:57pm

    Stardard comment...

    16/Male/Multitasker.

    Yes, us young people multitask. But so do you oldies. So give it a break already.

    Oh, and multitasking can be useful, especially in an IT invironment. The trick is to know when to NOT multitask. If you don't know how to do that, then you'll end up with so much work that you've started, and cannot finish....

    "Hi, I'm Kiah, and I'm a IT Support person. Its been 3 minutes since my last OS install."

    Peace out y'all

     

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  56.  
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    DocNightHawk, Mar 21st, 2006 @ 6:04am

    There's ADHD, there's ADD, and there's Inattentive

    Comment #4 by Andrew Pollack used the term ADHD but it is not clear to which of the three diagnosis of Attention Deficit Disorder he is referring.

    ADHD which can denote Attention Deficit Disorder in which Hyperactivity is present.
    —Inattentiveness,
    —Impulsiveness, and
    —Hyperactivity].

    And as is often the case with English, ADHD is often used to a separate diagnosis Attention Deficit Disorder in which Hyperactivity is not present. Probably better acronym for this group is ADD.
    —Inattentiveness, and
    —Impulsiveness

    Unfortunately, ADD is often used to denote the above categories as well as a third variant Attention Deficit Disorder -Primarily Inattentive. Which as far as I know has not earned its own acronym.
    —Impulsiveness

    AD/HD is sometimes used to acknowledge the first two groups but leaves out those who are "Primarily Inattentive." This makes "us" wonder it the rest of you are paying attention. :D

    In Comment # 25 dnatoday said "My husband has extreme ADD & works as an engineering tech in R&D." It would be interesting to know the which variant he work with.

     

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    Zeroth404, Mar 21st, 2006 @ 6:38am

    #56

    I was said to have AD/HD all my life. I don't.

    They took me, as I was then, a hyper kid and slapped a label on me as "disordered" having an "attention deficit" and wrapped it up in a fancy term that parents could obsess over called "ADHD." They druged me up for 8 years until I finally refused to take it anymore because its complete horse shit. Oh yeah, all my friends have HD/HD too.

    I seriosuly doubt the legitimacy of throwing "Hyperactive" into something so different as "Attention Deficit Disorder." Whether or not people actually have this "disorder", I'm not qualified to judge, but I was said to have it and was prescribed treatments and I'm telling you I was never even properly diagnosed.

     

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    Plaztikman, Mar 21st, 2006 @ 11:54am

    20 Something Multitasker

    I believe multitasking is a skill much like shooting free throws. Practice makes perfect. I think I've grown into a great multitasker from my workplace experiences. My first job was at Target in the electronics department. I had to help customers, run the register, take phone calls, stock merchandise, and zone all during an 8 hour shift. The store manager noticed I was good at multitasking, gave me an award, and promotion. I now work for a TV station in Dallas and all I do is multitask. Rolling video for the newscast, taking in feeds from the field, routing video to multiple sources, tuning in microwave or satellite feeds, and sometimes doing it all while talking on the phone.

    I disagree with the argument that multitaskers have a hard time with complex problem solving. In fact I find myself being approached by the 40+ generation at my job asking me to help them figure out technical problems with some of the high tech equipment. I've even had several reporters and producers ask me to help them with very elementary computer issues. And with a few of them I find myself repeatedly saying the same thing over and over, but they just don't get it.

    Processing complex information and problem solving in my opinion is a reflection of one's intelligence. I did say intelligence and not education. It is true that I can't figure out the mass of a hollow object, because I have no experience at doing it. Given enough time I could look up examples of the mathematical equation, work through a few to get used to the processes, and then attempt to figure it out. The reporter writing multitaskers have a harder time processing complex information should look at the test subjects IQ scores. I'm no genius, but I did score higher than the average bear.

     

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    david duley, Apr 6th, 2006 @ 5:14am

    intuition

    The way we are being brought up multi tasking with the use of this technological gadgetry does make me concerned that we get used to getting what we want, when we want it very easily and without having to wait for it in many cases. Patience is definitely not a virtue being learnt and could have negative long term consequences. I think a lot of research needs to be undertaken in this area. Cheers.

     

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