Kids Don't Multitask As Well As They'd Like You To Think

from the ooh,-look,-something-shiny... dept

Over the past few years, there have been plenty of stories about the rise of multitasking, especially among the younger generation. The general consensus is that having grown up with multitasking, they're just better at it. However, in a NY Times article that suggests people really don't handle multitasking very well, the author points to research suggesting that while kids may multitask more often, it doesn't mean they're very good at it. If anything, it just tends to show that they're not very good at ignoring distractions. Of course, as with many of these discussions the definition of multitasking can be quite tricky. We were just talking about the evolutionary benefits of continuous partial attention, that allowed a brain to work on more challenging problems while it was overtly working on less interesting issues. But is that really multitasking? At the same time, some people blame multitasking for not being able to keep the attention of people who they want to listen to them -- but again, that's a different issue. Perhaps part of the problem is that multitasking has multiple definitions to multiple people, and that makes it that much more difficult to recognize when it's a problem and when it's beneficial.
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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 27 Mar 2007 @ 6:06am


    In response to the article, I think multitasking is becoming more the norm but I don’t think it’s fair to generalize and say “Kids of today multitask better then adults did.”
    I consider myself to still be fairly young (24) but I work in the IT business and its quiet chaotic; there are always a dozen things that require attention ASAP.
    I grew up playing RTS (Real-Time Strategy) where multitasking is a requirement and I firmly believe that this directly aided in my ability to keep pace with the dynamic work environment I’m in today.
    I have noticed that there are many people that appear to be better at handling multiple issues simultaneously and, at the risk of generalizing; I have also noticed that most people that devote a large portion of their time to RTS games tend to be among the best of them. This may be more an effect then a cause (maybe people that are good at multitasking are drawn to RTS more then those who are not) but there is definitely a link there.
    I am certain I would not have the resource allocation and controlled sense of urgency skills I have today were it not for all those hours playing StarCraft and Command & Conquer growing up.

    I don’t think this an age-related skill though. I know many older adults that are just as good, or better, at RTS and multitasking then I am. I think it’s just more prevalent to find gamers among young people.

    In response to Ajax – that is ridiculous! Yes, being able to focus is very important, but how often do you need to run for your life in today’s world? Talk to the boss, sure. But I demonstrate to my boss everyday that I can be talking to him (and communicate effectively with comprehension) while helping a user on Instant Messenger and editing open tickets in our tracker software. THESE are the things I need to do everyday to ensure my wellbeing.

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