Are We Multitasking Freaks?

When it comes to multitasking, modern man is a true master. With an eye he’s reading a book (or e-book) and watching other news. On his knees he has the laptop through which he talks with his friends and updates his Facebook profile. Every two minutes, he looks at his mobile phone screen to see if he received any sms. He’s doing all this while from his iPod springs his  favorite band’s latest hit.

Yet, according to a study recently published in the journal Neuron, even then when we think we have perfected the ability to multitask, we’ve actually improved the one to jump quickly from one job to another and-back. In other words, although we can train the brain to work more efficiently while we do the number of “juggling” we actually never manage to do two things simultaneously. Quite simply, our brains are not “built” so to solve the sort of parallel processing of information that we like to think we are capable of.

On the other hand, some are ready to put their hands on fire that some people are able to do several things at once. In fact, there is a theory that, after a sustained workout of multitasking, you can do some routine activities to become “automatic”.

For example, you read while you answer questions to your friends using an online messenger. And you may get the feeling that you’re doing two things in the same time when you’re actually doing one thing interrupted by another one multiple times.

However, things are not quite like that, at least if we are to believe the latest studies in this area. As much as it seems, even “multitaskers” extensively trained and they still need to “consult” the prefrontal cortex of the brain in order to make a small task. Only practice makes thinking more “quick”, thus allowing them to pass a “task” to another pretty quickly but this doesn’t means that the quality of the performed tasks is the same as in the case where you would have done them separately.

So, what is multitasking? The informatics definition is – the property of following/ performing multiple actions in the time which is normally used to perform a single one. But I’d call it the schizoid tendency of modern man who iscompletely immersed in the technology ecosystem to track and manage multiple communication tools, overwhelmed under the enormous amount of data, information and stimuli. More or less, all of us are “multitaskers”, but those who think that this is an indicator of efficiency, should change their mind.

Studies done in recent years by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and some experiments conducted by Michigan University and the Federal Aviation Administration have shown that it is very difficult to finish 2 simultaneous activities because the brain only takes into consideration the second activity after the first one is done. Also, moving attention from one task to another has negative implications on the professional performances. So multitasking has a tough price – halting the formation of long-term memory.

Multitasking is “like playing tennis with three balls” American psychiatrist Edward M. Hallowell considered. I mean, super-brain activity to which we submit is truly remarkable, but so are the risks we are subjects to, because moving the focus from one task to another brings damage to focus, attention and perception, learning and the acquisition of knowledge; intellectual performance decreases, the productivity is reducing and generally it has negative repercussions on the level of stress experienced and mood.

Also, although multitasking creates the illusion that you can do many things at once, this does not mean you won time. The attempt is illusory and unattainable in nature, simply because there is no brain able to simultaneously perform several activities, with maximum results and more importantly, without stress.


Sick of No Connection


“The Multitasking generation”, this is how have been defined the young people born in the 90s, which seem to be somehow endowed with the innate ability to perform several activities simultaneously, by means of more and more environments and languages. If in about 10 years ago, parents could ask children to “shut the TV”, now they should ask to shut the computer / phone / video / iPod/ PSP, etc…


American psychologists talk about a new “epidemic” among teenagers, a disease that “short-circuits the brain”  and is called the “off-line disease ” : a simple breakdown of the network Internet in the neighborhood is enough for some to succumb to panic attacks, insomnia, headaches and stomachaches. Symptoms often disappear like magic with the restoration of connection.

Arms of Mass Destruction

Fragmented attention, decreased concentration and poor memory capacity – these are the effects of the multitasking generation. According to U.S. researcher Jordan Grafman, “making leaps between one activity and another on a highly dynamic rhyt is only a strenuous mental gymnastics that does not lead to anything good”. True learning, he said, involves long hours of study, reflection and analysis. Therefore, young people are increasingly adapting to “short performance” and most likely will fail to respond to long-term performance tasks.

The solution is simple enough for everybody to apply it – establish a step-by-step “guide” of your own activities that need to be done. You can do it on the mental level, there’s no need to write it down, only if you are applying this to a business model or something like that. Focus on the activities that are required to solve right now and don’t interfere with others. Don’t read, listen to music, play games, talk with your mother/son/sister in the same time. Make a separation between work and studies, free time/tasked time.