Back to the (Future of the) Single Task

A decade ago those of us interested in computers and learning were convinced that multitasking, encouraged by the internet in particular, was going to change what it meant to be human. Everything had to be redesigned to encourage multitasking; we had to accept, we told ourselves, that our (younger) students would be even better at it, because they would know no work or play without it.

We were a little put off by the prospect of the world becoming utterly strange, but their ascendancy seemed inevitable. A handful of more scientific minded folk took these ideas very seriously and started devising experiments and tests to see if it were really true. The news is not good. I just listened to an interview with Clifford Nass, a sociologist at Stanford on the Canadian show Spark (Episode 142, here);

The evidence is clear, Nass says: our brains are not designed to multitask and the more we try to multitask the worse our cognitive performance becomes. More and more people are reporting that multitasking is unproductive and the single task has become daunting. We’ve unlearned concentration and focus, and Nass believes, we need to relearn how to keep our minds on a single task.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

One Thought on “Back to the (Future of the) Single Task

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