Mobiles, social networking, email, instant messenger, TV… With so many different ways to communicate and consume media we’re all turning to multitasking to keep up. But can our brains cope?
As I write this, I’m mid-way through an email conversation with a colleague, thinking about my next tweet and verifying a new account on Digg. Oh, and my mobile just started ringing.
Think I’m exaggerating for the purposes of writing an entertaining post? I’m really not.
How we multitask
It seems like this kind of multitasking behaviour isn’t at all unusual. The last week has seen a flood of interest in how our media consumption is changing. Last week, Ofcom told us that people spend almost half of their waking hours watching TV, using their mobiles and other communications devices.
But my measly multitasking has nothing on today’s 15-25 year olds. Apparently they squeeze an average of nearly five hours’ worth of media consumption into two hours of actual time.
That’s impressive timesaving by anyone’s standards. If only we could all apply that dedication at work – we could all go home at 3pm. Unfortunately, teens are using a combination of mobiles, Facebook and instant messaging, which probably wouldn’t go down too well with most bosses.
Over in the States, The Washington Post has been bandying around the term ‘digital diversions’, citing case studies of teens staying up all night on their game consoles, mobiles, iPods and laptops. US experts say 80% of adolescents don’t get their recommended sleep of around nine hours.
It’s all a far cry from the days where teens were told to turn the telly off at 9pm and had to ask before they used the landline to call a friend.
Today’s young people have no interest in ‘the box’ either. Instead, 81% are watching TV online, according to yet another study into students’ online activity out this week. Add to this Ofcom’s finding that almost one fifth of the time we spend watching TV is accompanied by a laptop or mobile activity. It’s not hard to see where the future of TV is at.
So, should we be concerned by our increasing hunger for media? Technology expert Nicholas Carr certainly thinks so. His new book argues that the internet is harming our ability to concentrate on a specific task for a long period of time. What’s more, he thinks that multitasking actually reduces productivity.
Is he right? Should we all be picking one task and sticking to it before we move on to the next? Before I answer that one I’m off to finish that email and check my Twitter feed.