by Mike Masnick
Wed, Jun 9th 2010 3:13pm
by Mike Masnick
Wed, Nov 25th 2009 9:01am
from the learn-to-love-it dept
Multitasking is not a distraction from our main activity, it is our main activity.That's a nicer way of saying what we said a few months ago. The "inefficiencies" from multitasking aren't a bug. They're a feature. Cowen goes on to explain it using the analogy of a long distance relationship compared to a stable marriage:
A long-distance relationship is, in emotional terms, a bit like culture in the time of Cervantes or Mozart. The costs of travel and access were high, at least compared to modern times. When you did arrive, the performance was often very exciting and indeed monumental. Sadly, the rest of the time you didn't have that much culture at all. Even books were expensive and hard to get. Compared to what is possible in modern life, you couldn't be as happy overall but your peak experiences could be extremely memorable, just as in the long-distance relationship.The full piece is much longer, but beautifully written and quite convincing.
Now let's consider how living together and marriage differ from a long-distance relationship. When you share a home, the costs of seeing each other are very low. Your partner is usually right there. Most days include no grand events, but you have lots of regular and predictable interactions, along with a kind of grittiness or even ugliness rarely seen in a long-distance relationship. There are dirty dishes in the sink, hedges to be trimmed, maybe diapers to be changed.
If you are happily married, or even somewhat happily married, your internal life will be very rich. You will take all those small events and, in your mind and in the mind of your spouse, weave them together in the form of a deeply satisfying narrative, dirty diapers and all. It won't always look glorious on the outside, but the internal experience of such a marriage is better than what's normally possible in a long-distance relationship.
The same logic applies to culture. The Internet and other technologies mean that our favorite creators, or at least their creations, are literally part of our daily lives. It is no longer a long-distance relationship. It is no longer hard to get books and other written material. Pictures, music, and video appear on command. Culture is there all the time, and you can receive more of it, pretty much whenever you want.
In short, our relationship to culture has become more like marriage in the sense that it now enters our lives in an established flow, creating a better and more regular daily state of mind. True, culture has in some ways become uglier, or at least it would appear so to the outside observer. But when it comes to how we actually live and feel, contemporary culture is more satisfying and contributes to the happiness of far more people. That is why the public devours new technologies that offer extreme and immediate access to information.
Many critics of contemporary life want our culture to remain like a long-distance relationship at a time when most of us are growing into something more mature. We assemble culture for ourselves, creating and committing ourselves to a fascinating brocade. Very often the paper-and-ink book is less central to this new endeavor; it's just another cultural bit we consume along with many others. But we are better off for this change, a change that is filling our daily lives with beauty, suspense, and learning.
by Mike Masnick
Mon, Oct 5th 2009 6:40am
from the questions-to-ponder... dept
Still, there's another argument to be made also, which reader JJ recently pointed out. Stowe Boyd notes that all of these types of studies miss the point, in that personal efficiency may be less important than being more interactive:
Perhaps what we are doing has nothing to do with efficiency. I don't operate the way I do with the principal goal of speeding things up. My motivations are much more complex and diffused.I honestly had never thought of it this way, and I'll admit I'm not sure how I feel on this. But it is an interesting way of looking at such things. Obviously, in a work setting, personal productivity may matter. But, in general -- just doing stuff online -- is it a problem that we multitask? Or is that a feature?
I don't perceive what I am doing as multitasking, really. I am not trying to speed up how quickly I shift from one thing to another. Instead, I am involved in a stream of activities, in which other people figure prominently, either synchronously through direct discussion (a la Twitter or IM) or indirectly, through their writings and my responses.
In many cases, I leave activities dangling because I don't know exactly how I feel about them. In some cases, I could resolve my feelings and take some action if I simply stopped other activities and focused solely on that activity, but in most cases that is not the case. And simply forcing myself to focus on the next thing in the activity would not lead to an acceptable or beneficial result, necessarily.
It's like a painter with a number of works in process. My primary motivation is not getting a particular painting 'done', but adding dabs of paint that I feel are the right ones.
by Mike Masnick
Thu, May 29th 2008 4:15am
from the talk-to-some-kids dept
Now that strikes me as odd, because my thought was exactly the opposite. These distractions are there -- and since kids these days are growing up with such distractions, they're used to them and take it as a natural state of affairs. In other words, by getting them to think of continuous partial attention as the norm from a very young age, we absolutely are preparing them for the future. Of course, the real answer may lie somewhere in-between -- in that it may depend on just what people are trying to accomplish.