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.