The ability to multitask is a celebrated trait. The explosion of “smart”, connected devices allow us to instantly respond to our fast moving world. I often feel quite empowered by my ability to watch TV, surf the Internet, email, and text all at the same time. Perhaps I am rapidly evolving into a digital superhero capable of processing the secrets of the universe in real time. Not so fast Captain Digital. The truth is that I am not evolving into something better, but rather devolving into a person that has forgotten the subtle art of paying attention.
In an interview at the World Economic Forum last year, Yahoo’s CEO, Marissa Meyer, proudly announced that she checks her phone more than 150 times a day. Wow, her success must be directly linked to her incredible ability to multitask. To the contrary, scientific studies have shown that doing more than one task at once means that we do not perform any single task well. In 2005, HP and the Institute of Psychiatry at the University of London funded a research study that concluded, “Workers distracted by e-mail and phone calls suffer a fall in IQ more than twice that found in marijuana smokers.” I am not saying that this is a win for marijuana smokers, but it does raise a serious question about how many of us treat our smart phones like virtual pets.
As it turns out, multitasking is not unique to our mobile world. Back in 1740, Lord Chesterfield gave this advice to his son in a letter: “There is time enough for everything in the course of the day, if you do but one thing at once, but there is not time enough in the year, if you will do two things at a time.” Thomas Edison was well known for fishing alone at a nearby pond so that he could think without distractions. Contrast this with today where it is commonplace for kids to do their homework while instant messaging, watching TV, and playing games online. The plain fact is that this is a poor learning environment and one that many of us regularly indulge in.
Multitasking, however, is not just related to the workplace, but also to our personal lives. My smartphone has become a magnet that my hand cannot resist. I have to know what is going on, so I check my phone constantly. By doing so, I am losing contact with the moment I am living in. In the spirit of Christmas, put down your phone and pick up the world around you. I will do the same.
For more information on the perils of multitasking, please refer to the following articles:
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