Media multitasking is another important topic addressed by Julia Shaw in “THE MEMORY ILLUSION.” She begins this section as follows: “Let me tell you a secret. You can’t multitask.” This is the way neuroscientist Earl Miller from MIT puts it, “people can’t multitask very well, and when people say they can, they’re deluding themselves…The brain is very good at deluding itself.” Miller continues, “When people think they’re multitasking, they’re actually just switching from one task to another very rapidly. And every time they do, there’s a cognitive cost.”
A review done in 2014 by Derk Crews and Molly Russ on the impact of task-switching has on efficiency concluded that it is bad for our productivity, critical thinking and ability to concentrate, in addition to making us more error-prone. Moreover, they concluded that these consequences are not limited to diminishing our ability to do the task at hand. They also have an impact on our ability to remember things later. Task switching also increases stress, diminishing people’s ability to manage a work-life balance, and can have negative social consequences.
Reysol Junco and Shelia Cotton further examined the impact of task-switching on our ability to learn and remember things. Their research was reported in an article entitled ‘No A 4 U’. They asked 1,834 students about their use of technology and found that most of them spent a significant amount of time using information and communication technologies on a daily basis. They found that 51% of respondents reported texting, 33% reported using Facebook, and 21% reported emailing while doing schoolwork somewhat or very frequently. The respondents reported that while studying outside of class, they spent an average 60 minutes per day on Facebook, 43 minutes per day browsing the internet, and 22 minutes per day on their email. This is over two hours attempting to multitask while studying per day. The study also found that such multitasking, particularly the use of Facebook and instant messaging, was significantly negatively correlated with academic performance; the more time students reported spending using these technologies while studying, the worse their grades were.
David Strayer and his research team at the University of Utah published a study comparing drunk drivers to drivers who were talking on their cell phones. It is assumed here that most conscious attention is being directed at the conversation and the driving has been relegated to automatic monitoring. The results were that “When drivers were conversing on either a handheld or a hands-free cell phone, their braking reactions were delayed and they were involved in more traffic accidents than when they were not conversing on a cell phone.’ HM believes that this research was conducted in driving simulators and did not engender any carnage on the road. Strayer also concluded that driving while chatting on the phone can actually be as bad as drunk driving, with both noticeably increasing the risk for car accidents.
Unfortunately, legislators have not understood this research. Laws allow hand-free use of cell phones, but it is not the hands that are at issue here. It is the attention available for driving. Cell phone use regardless of whether hands are involved detracts from the attention needed during driving when emergencies or unexpected happenings occur.
Communications researchers Aimee Miller-Ott and Lynne Kelly studied how constant use of our phones while also engaged in other activities can impede our happiness. Their position is that we have expectations of how certain social interactions are supposed to look, and if these expectation are violated we have a negative response.
They asked 51 respondents to explain what they expect when ‘hanging out’ with friends and loved ones, and when going on dates. They found that just the mere presence of a visible cell phone decreased the satisfaction of time spent together, regardless of whether the person was constantly using it. The reasons offered by the respondents for disliking the other person being on their cell phone included the involution of the expectation of undivided attention during dates and other intimated moments. When hanging out, this expectation was lessened, so the presence of a cell phone was not perceived to be as negative, but was still often considered to diminish the in-person interaction. Their research corresponded to their review of the academic literature, where there is strong evidence showing that romantic partners are often annoyed and upset when their partner uses a cell phone during the time spent together
Marketing professor James Roberts has coined the term ‘phub’— an elision of ‘phone’ and ‘snub’ to describe the action of a person choosing to engage with their phone instead of engaging with another person. For example, you might angrily say, “Stop phubbing me!” Roberts says that phone attachment leading to this kin of use behavior has ben lined with higher stress, anxiety, and depression.