Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Good article from Time.com on The Multitasking Generation

I have been attending a local Toastmaster club for about a year. Toastmasters provides a format for helping people improve their speaking skills. I've found it to be useful and fun. If you want to improve your public speaking ability, go check out Toastmasters.

One of today's speeches was on "Modern Technology and Addiction." The speaker talked about some of her concerns when her oldest son started spending every minute playing computer games. Her son’s grades dropped, and he was more belligerent. She decided there would be no computer games from Monday to Friday, and the son’s behavior improved. At the conclusion of her speech she handed out copies of an article by Time.

The article, The Multitasking Generation, focuses on how children of this generation do a lot of multitasking, and some of the problems resulting from constant multitasking. The article had a number of good points. For example: “Decades of research (not to mention common sense) indicate that the quality of one's output and depth of thought deteriorate as one attends to ever more tasks.”

Research shows that our brains don’t do true multitasking. We can not give full attention to a conversation with a friend, while typing an email to another friend about a different topic, while focusing on a song in the background. The exception to this is: “It turns out that very automatic actions or what researchers call ‘highly practiced skills,’ like walking or chopping an onion, can be easily done while thinking about other things…” Once we have mastered a given action so well that we don’t consciously think about it, then we can do it and another action at the same time.

When we “multitask” what we are really doing is thinking about task A, and then pausing to think about task B, and then pausing again to bounce back to task A. Our brain does not consciously think about both tasks at the same time. “When people try to perform two or more related tasks either at the same time or alternating rapidly between them, errors go way up, and it takes far longer--often double the time or more--to get the jobs done than if they were done sequentially” Children may think they are doing a good job with their homework while watching a movie, but the research shows they are doing a poorer job than if they just focused on the homework.

A main part of the article is that with our advances in technology, and how cheap the new toys are, many children have computers, cell phones, and so on. And they’ll use them all at the same time, and often while they are at school or at home. The current generation of children is multitasking at a degree higher than ever before. Researches are concerned that too much time spent trying to multitask is harmful. “Habitual multitasking may condition their brain to an overexcited state, making it difficult to focus even when they want to. ‘People lose the skill and the will to maintain concentration …’” (I added the bold) Some children are spending all their time trying to do several things at once. The article makes the point that it is important “… for parents and educators to teach kids, preferably by example, that it's valuable, even essential, to occasionally slow down, unplug and take time to think about something for a while.”

The second to last paragraph was powerful:

“For all the handwringing about Generation M, technology is not really the problem. ‘The problem,’ says Hallowell, ‘is what you are not doing if the electronic moment grows too large’--too large for the teenager and too large for those parents who are equally tethered to their gadgets. In that case, says Hallowell, ‘you are not having family dinner, you are not having conversations, you are not debating whether to go out with a boy who wants to have sex on the first date, you are not going on a family ski trip or taking time just to veg. It's not so much that the video game is going to rot your brain, it's what you are not doing that's going to rot your life." (I added the bold.)


The next time your child claims they can multitask while doing their homework, you may want to say something like: "That is fine dear, but I want you to practice focusing on just your homework. It is important that you learn how to focus."


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7 comments:

Captain Mom said...

May I just say thank you for posting this, for confirming what we've seen in our own son, and helping me stick to my guns in regulating his "media" and just saying NO, when it is necessary to say no.

He is a child that for some reason seems particularly suseptible to "brain rot" from too much media, or as the author states, "too little of the other stuff" he could be doing. We see a direct correlation in his behavior, in obedience, kindness to siblings, over all attitude, when there is more media (for us, this is computer, gameboy or TV). This was so evident, that after weeks bidding on a used game system for the children to enjoy occassionally, we gave it away after having it in our home for one month. The drive to be on it all the time, and when not on it, be asking "when next" was so strong, and the behavior so clearly affected, it just couldn't be in our home.

I think that this is another problem maybe not addressed enough. It is not just the media, or not enough of the good stuff, it is also often the lack of parents' ability or willingness to stay on the amount of use, and when needed, just say NO more. And as also mentioned in the article you cite, it seems so clear that our children lose their ability to think of anything else to do, how to use their imaginations, or just be quiet.

In our home, the evidence has been so clear, it is startling. Thanks again for posting this, maybe someone else will benefit before another child's brain is perhaps permanently, and unnecessarily altered for simply the lack of being able to grow, unimpeded by constant media input.

Kristie said...

Tahnks for the post. I made a link to it, but I still don't know how to do a track back.

Henry Cate said...

"I think that this is another problem maybe not addressed enough. It is not just the media, or not enough of the good stuff, it is also often the lack of parents' ability or willingness to stay on the amount of use, and when needed, just say NO more."

Agreed. One of my goals as a parent to help my daughters become happy, good, and competent adults. At this point I'm not too worried about being a best friend, or making childhood a big party. I think some adults get confused as to what are the best ways to really help their children.

HowGreatADebtor said...

Thank you, thank you, Henry, for this article!

Mike Anderson said...

Absolutely marvelous post!

If anything, the Time article understates the problem. I know from personal experience that chopping an onion, can be easily done while thinking about other things…” is a recipe for a trip to the emergency room with stitches. In his book Deep Survival, Laurance Gonzales says it all in 3 words: "Be here now."

John said...

I was just thinking about wanting to watch TV while doing homework. When I was a kid, it was all about timing (I wanted to watch a particular show).

Now, with a DVR, my kids will have less of a reason to put off homework or do it while watching TV. Technology can be used to counteract at least some of the effects seen if used by a good parent in smart ways.

Anonymous said...

There is an excellent follow-up to this post via a series of programs on Frontline. Please see the following link http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/digitalnation/view/