/ Health, Technology

Is media multitasking turning our brains to mush?

Girl at laptop watching TV

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.

Digital diversions

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.

Brain drain?

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.

Sophie Gilbert says:
27 August 2010

I don’t see in what way multitasking can possibly increase productivity. This is related in a way to being a jack of all trades and a master of none.

If 80% of adolescents end up not getting their recommended sleep of about nine hours, there are at least two issues here, one being discipline and the other addiction. Parents in general don’t seem to want to put their foot down as and when necessary any more, as demonstrated by other problems that media overuse.

As far as addiction is concerned, adoloscents aren’t the only ones to suffer. People aren’t addicted just to telly any more, but to their mobile phones, to their laptops and whatnot, apparently suffering from withdrawal symptons, being very agitated, when they find themselves without their mobiles for example. As we well know addiction is something that is difficult to get rid of, even if you are aware that you are addicted, as demonstrated by Hannah Jolliffe.

Anther issue is wanting to “keep up”. It seems very few of us are able to ask the question, “keep up with what?”, and then find the answer, “nothing vital “.

I only wish that now as an OAP that one thing at a time could be completed properly let alone more as you have stated , there is too much in the modern world that is there to take our attention to complete anything properly thus so many things in the world are in such a mess compared with my mid life time when it was said ” if a thing is worth doing properly do one thing at a time ” . I am now being told by many ladies that we men could or cannot multi task anyway , so am sure that things will get a lot worse in the very near future !!! .

As far as I’m concerned. The present obsession with “instant communication” or “brain dead entertainment” is detrimental to the overall education of everyone.

A major reason for poor diction – poor spelling – poor arithmetic skills etc – are all due to lack of emphasis on basics. exacerbated by the lack of concern by too many who should care.

One example – I taught mathematics – my fellow teachers emphasised the use of calculators to their pupils. I did not and gave the pupils mental arithmetic tests every Friday (which the kids liked). The children were all in carefully selected mixed ability classes. But in the exams – both internal and external – my classes always did far better overall. I was accused of somehow “cheating”

If one starts at a disadvantage it is incredibly hard to catch up.

As for multitasking – I ignore it – I have seven computers – two phones – two data collectors. But I only use them one at a time – which is exactly what people really do – How many people have you seen – using a phone with one hand – a computer with the other hand – and manipulating a football with a foot??