The Dangers of Multi-Tasking

 A recent article in the AARP Magazine (“May I Have Your Attention Please,” July/August 2010, pp 28-31) stressed the dangers of multitasking. You might be surprised that such an article would appear in the AARP Magazine as multi-tasking presents dangers to all humans. The reason is that information overload is even more serious for those over 50. Katy Read, the author of the article, begins by recounting a day in which she had 49 browser tabs open on her computer. Now admittedly this is a tad extreme, but it does illustrate how bad things can get.

The article states that the average American hears, sees, or reads 34 gigabytes of information a day from the internet, radio, newspapers, and other sources. This number strikes me as being rather high. Moreover, it states that this is about 100,000 words. Now the complete works of Shakespeare total about five megabytes, which is but a small fraction of a gigabyte. Moreover, a two-hour film, when compressed, is about one to two gigabytes (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “Cyberspace: How Much Data is Out There”, to get a feel for the quantity of data that is available). So, I find the 100,000 words estimate more plausible. The article also states that this figure has grown more than 5 percent annually since 1980, a figure I can well believe.

Our attention is limited, and we should use it wisely. Here are some tips offered in the article.

Study you habits –Ask yourself every day whether you are focusing on the right things.

Limit Your Inputs – Stick to favorite websites and TV programs and resist aimless Web and Channel surfing. Although I would agree that in general this is a good goal, it is still a good idea to give a certain amount of time and attention to new things.

Exercise Your Concentration Muscles – Focused activities such as reading an absorbing book or meditating will sharpen attention and relieve stress. (See the Healthymemory Blog Post, “The Relaxation Response” to learn more about meditating.)

Leave a Trail – When you are engaged in an activity and think of something to do or something to read that is not directly relevant to your current task, make a note to return to it later. Then continue with your task.

Get Some Air – When you take a break, unplug completely. Take a walk, meet a friend, or play with your dog. This will refresh your attention and provide better focus.

Regarding this final point, there seem to be special benefits in going to nature to restore your attentional resources (See the Healthymemory Blog Posts, “More on Restoring Attentional Resources”, and “Restoring Attentional Resources.”)


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One Response to “The Dangers of Multi-Tasking”

  1. billbirnbaum Says:

    Yes, I agree — 34 gigabytes does seem high. But your point remains true: we’re inundated with information.


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