Multitasking – are we designed for it?

Multitasking is The mantra. Imagining someone not multitasking today will be akin to label the person as old-school, incapable, loser, etc. Multitasking, or doing two or more unrelated tasks at one point of time is probably percieved as an inherent skill that is imbibed in us human beings. But are we really designed to multitask? Is multitasking or switch tasking as it can be more correctly called poised to take a toll in the long run? Or in a digital age, we homo sapiens are evolving to become better multitaskers?

Imagine a situation. You have just set yourself to start writing an assignment on your laptop using a word file. For that activity, your brain has to first find the set of neurons capable of doing that and then send an order to do the task. So whichever activity you were doing prior to the assignment, a switch from it to assignment has occurred. All is well until now. Now imagine your friend (girlfriend/boyfriend/crush/model of the class/whatever; i leave it to your imagination) texts you/sends a FB message, asking about your plan for the weekend. Assuming safely that writing assignment and replying to the friend are unequal, your brain starts finding another set of neurons and then ordering it to reply to the message. That you have replied to the message and you are have to revert back to the assignment.

These four set of activities in the brain takes place simultaenously and consumes extra time (n the range of tenths of second) which is significant for the brain cells. A part of the brain performs ‘switchboard’ type function, plugging the jack into various slots so that you are able to do the assignment, replying to friend simultaenously.

Considering it to be a mild example; imagine texting while driving; talking on phone and searching something; having quite a few windows open on the computer and watching TV, etc. Do you sometimes exclaim ‘Cant Remember Shit‘. Combining such unrelated activities, applying excessive pressure on brain can cause so.

Media multitasking is playing a role like never before. With average time on media on the rise, so is the rise in time in multitasking. Today we do not want to be ‘silent’ for a moment. It is said that the mind is totally silent for about one minute in a good night’s sleep. And that is what has helped human beings remain sane! Today we want to fill up time with some digital activity; be it checking FB first thing in the morning or last thing in the night (well quite a few times as the last-thing in the night). Many studies have shown inverse relation of productivity, academic performance with multitasking, and call it a myth. Some also have advocated that humans can do a maximum of two different tasks at a point of time.

With the younger generation exposed to multitasking, especially media multitasking at very high level, its impact needs to be both scientifically studied from the viewpoints of neurosciences and psychology and also debated with respect to philosophy. Are individuals becoming rich in information and shallow in values? Is ability to pay attention and attention span decreasing? Or is the high dosage of multitasking producing better multitaskers? These questions just does not need systematic answers but also introspection.

About Sambit Dash 29 Articles

Other than teaching Biochemistry to undergraduate students of medicine i write, i research, i speak, i read…and i am passionate about these activities