Daniel Levitin on the perils of multitasking
“Instead of reaping the big rewards that come from sustained, focused effort, we instead reap empty rewards from completing a thousand little sugar-coated tasks.”
If you’ve been reading this blog a while, you’ll know that multi-tasking is one of my pet hates: it’s a myth. You can’t do it, you can just flit from one thing to another, and do none of them particularly well. See this page for links to all my previous rants about multi-tasking.
The Levitin article is a teaser for his book, The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, which offers advice, based on an understanding of how your mind works, on how to live better with all this going on, rather than try to pretend that there’s something great about behaving like an overstimulated, distracted 12-year old when you’re an adult.
I reckon it’s probably one of the uncomfortable truths of the modern world, that no-one who achieves anything wonderful does it without turning their social media, indeed, the whole darn internet off while they do it, but in a world where the high street is dominated by people selling laptops, tablets and smartphones, it would figure that the dominant message out there is that online, networked multitasking is a Good Thing. I’ve been enjoying reading Russell Brand’s Revolution – and in the middle of that, he tells the reader to go and look some fact for themselves: he goes offline to write, so can’t do it himself. That might come as much of a surprise as learning that Jim Carrey doesn’t eat sugar, but it’s true.
Update, May 2019
Four years later, I’ve just read Adam Alter’s Irresistble, about Internet addiction. There’s some terrifying reading in there, but it’s actually comforting to know that in such a short time, the science has overtaken the popular myth, and you’ll read more about device-related behavioural addictions now than about multitasking.