There have been a bunch of studies recently claiming that multi-tasking and our constant use of technology harms our ability to concentrate or accomplish certain tasks. A recent example is a study claiming that so much tech usage is harming our ability to learn
because kids can't focus as much on long form work. Of course, I'm a bit skeptical of any such claims (almost all anecdotal) considering that actual studies have shown that kids read more books
today than in the past. And, it's not just kids. More people are reading books
than in the past in the general population as well.
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 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.
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?