Multitasking generates Average Joes

Write three paragraphs.

Stop. Check Facebook.

Write two more paragr — stop. Check phone. Answer text.

Continue writing.

Stare into space for 10 solid minutes.

Finish paper.

Watch an episode of “Parks and Recreation” on Netflix — OK, fine, two episodes — OK three episodes.

Start next assignment.

Essentially, this is the narrative for most college students when it comes to doing nightly school work. And this narrative is probably parallel to most other things we do as well. 

Younger generations tend to fall into this apparent trap of multitasking — and we all think we are so good at it. We think that we are capable of listening to our professors while catching up on readings for class and periodically switching from one Internet tab to another, all with the occasional email check or social media check.

However as Professor Clifford Nass of Stanford University demonstrates in “Digital Nation,” a Frontline documentary, “multitaskers are terrible at every aspect of multitasking. They get distracted constantly. Their memory is very disorganized … they’re worse at analytic reasoning.”

So here we all are, thinking we are being productive and proficient, but in the meantime we are probably doing unexceptional work as we distribute our attention to multiple tasks.

Although, I think much of the issue lies within the range of technological advancements, cultural expectations and cognitive processes that intermingle and facilitate the highly prevalent “multitaskers.”

With so many new mediums to work through such as iPads, tablets, laptops, smartphones and more, many of us are able to have a wider range of resources at our fingertips. We text on our cellphones, check up on different websites, take notes on an iPad, etc. And we do so rather effortlessly.

But because of this, there seems to be different cultural expectations as well, in terms of timeliness and social responsibilities. For instance, if we don’t respond to an email within a matter of a few hours, we might completely miss an opportunity, all because of our cultural emphasis on time and efficiency. 

We are expected to be prompt in most aspects of life, such that we use these different mediums to maximize our productivity and reach out to many different people at once.

Meanwhile, all of this seems to be affecting our brains and the way we think. N. Katherine Hayles, a literary critic and professor at Duke University, discusses the differences between hyper and deep attention. She says hyper attention entails doing different tasks at once and tending to many different stimuli — such as the case of my brief narrative presented at the beginning.

Undoubtedly, hyper attention is more prevalent among younger generations, which definitely takes part in our rampant multitasking.

Deep attention, on the other hand, deals with concentrating on one subject for an extended amount of time, which allows us to focus on more thoughtful projects. In doing this, we might have a better understanding of a concept than when using hyper attention.  

So while multitasking may be at the hands of multiple different forces, it is proving to have an effect on how we work and the ways in which we work. And the real question is how will this impact our future as a society? If us multitaskers are supposedly worse at analytical reasoning and have less tolerance for focusing on one subject for too long, how does that impact our work ethic or our ability to be critical thinkers?

These are important questions to consider when it comes to how we structure society in terms of the cultural expectations and technologies we produce, because ultimately I think college students and younger generations are victims of the circumstances that surround us — and it’s showing in our cognitive processes.

Granted, this semester, several of my professors have implemented strict policies limiting the use of media sources in the classroom, such as laptops, tablets or cellphones, to ensure that we are engaging with discussions and class material.

And I have to say, I find it to be a reasonable and effective method to limit multitasking and promote deep attention in an environment where we should be focused and learning.

I feel that a stronger emphasis needs to be placed on deep attention and determining how to incorporate that kind of thinking into everyday life, because I don’t want to be a part of a world full of mediocre producers and less-than-thrilling thinkers.

So while I don’t place the blame of this multitasking phenomenon on anything but gradual, societal development, I think we ought to be more aware of the ways in which we are all being influenced by our surroundings and how that can affect the ways we think and live.

The irony of it all is that I wrote this entire column on a laptop while simultaneously answering texts and working on another computer with several tabs open, all while listening to Beyonce — and I thought I was good at it.

Meanwhile, I probably produced a pretty average column.  


Nicki is a junior in Media. She can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @NickiHalenza.