Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Not All Multitasking Is Bad

Linda, at this summer's River Raisin Jazz Festival

My concern with multitasking especially involves the areas of teaching prayer and spiritual formation, and philosophy. If I was still teaching guitar, it would involve this, too.

To think philosophically requires what Daniel Kahneman has called "slow thinking." Needed: attention, focus, fixation. Distraction is the enemy of focus, and multitasking is distracted multifocusing. 

This is not all bad. For example, "multitasking often allows us to perform tasks efficiently and effectively; office workers, parents, and doctors would be hard-pressed to do their work if they were forcibly made to focus on a single task for an extended period of time." (Dario Salvucci and Niels Taartgen, The Multitasking Mind (Cognitive Models and Architectures), 4) And, we multitask all the time. Anyone who is doing the dishes and solving a problem in their mind at the same time is multitasking. Salvucci and Taartgen say that "examples of everyday multitasking abound." (Ib.)

But in some areas multitasking is toxic. "There are also environments in which our multitasking may be dangerous if not lethal." (Ib.) For example, cell-phoning while driving. 

In other areas multitasking breeds mediocrity. This especially concerns relationships, and focused slow-thinking areas that require understanding, like philosophy. I want my brain surgeon to lay down his cell phone and monotask while examining my frontal lobe. (And "everyday multitasking" will be happening within the brain surgeon's mind as he monotasks. Perhaps within every monotask there is a focused multitask.)

See also:

Distracted: The Erosion of Attention and the Coming Dark Age, by Maggie Jackson and Bill McKibben