The Autumn of the Multitaskers
According to Walter Kirn, the writer of the article, multitasking is dumbing the people down and driving them crazy. It has cost their lives and made a lot of changes in how they lived it. The start of all this madness was the influence of technology in the society. Its efficiency, mobility, and convenience have already taken its toll.
Most of the people now believe that they can do a lot of things at the same time. They can use their laptops to have their sexual needs satisfied by watching porn while checking the latest update on the business world and talking to a close friend on the phone. But it is buried deep in their minds that multitasking will never work. It has also been expected by the people. A person can not concentrate on all of these things easily:
…the mental balancing acts that it requires—the constant switching and pivoting—energize regions of the brain that specialize in visual processing and physical coordination and simultaneously appear to shortchange some of the higher areas related to memory and learning. (Kirn, The Autumn of Multitaskers)
Kirn also cited experiments about multitasking and its ineffectiveness. One of these is the recent experiment conducted in UCLA. Participants aged 20-something were asked to arrange index cards. The first trial was conducted in silence and the second trial was conducted while the participants were “listening to specific tones in a series of randomly presented sounds.” The participants sorted the cards well even with the distraction but the problem here is, they had a harder time remembering what they were sorting after the experiment was conducted.
This experiment has shown that multitasking and concentration does not go together. People tend to concentrate on concentration rather than on what they are concentrating on.
Multitasking, although making the lives of people fast-paced, has been slowing them down when it comes to thinking. Kirn said that a brain attempting to perform two tasks at the same time will exhibit a lag in information processing because of the back-and-forth stress of the brain.
Also, Kirn pointed out that multitasking has its dangers. Even the author himself experienced an accident for trying to look at a picture his girlfriend sent him while driving the car. He cited a survey conducted by the researchers at the Harvard Center for Risk Analysis where they found out that 2, 600 deaths and 330,000 injuries may be caused by drivers who were using the mobile phone while driving.
Another point was that multitasking has its financial cost. A vivid example given by the author was another of his own experience. While busy looking at Kevin Federline’s intriguing photo in the Internet, Kirn forgot to fix his schedule for a business flight via the same medium. That small distraction cost him a cheap flight to San Francisco.
As a conclusion, Walter Kirn assured that multitasking will never work. He shared the story of what happened to the car-boat he saw when he was a kid when he was living in a small town. In the end, the car-boat was destroyed by the owners because it never really worked—- a metaphor that multitasking will someday be destroyed too and should be forgotten.
The whole article talked about the ineffectiveness of multitasking, the danger it poses and how it has dumbed the people down. Despite doing various tasks in just a short span of time, the process of doing these tasks does not actually help the people to fully understand the process of these tasks, multitasking actually makes the people fail on concentrating at tasks being done.
One cause that can be pointed on the birth of multitasking is technology. With the “freedom” it offers, people can now do a lot of things at the same time. With laptops, you can look at various websites while using messengers to talk to your distant friends. With the help of a remote control, you can change channels of your television while talking to a friend on the phone.
All the points presented by Walter Kirn are strong because of the experiements and facts he mentioned in his article. Multitasking can pose a danger to people because on the lag of information processing and lack of concentration on the proper subject.
One can note that there is a lag in the process of changing the focus of the prefrontal cortex of our brain. Because of this lag, Walter Kirn almost died while he was driving and looking at a picture on the phone. The prefrontal cortex did not or could not immediately change its focus from looking at the picture in the phone to the fence ahead of Walter Kirn
It should also be noted that there are reports of car accidents due to taking calls and using mobile phones while driving. There is even a law in America where taking calls and driving is prohibited. This shows that the people is also aware of its dangers.
But the danger of multitasking is not only present in car accidents. Kirn just gave one of his experience as a vivid example. There are also other multitasking dangers. People who cook and listen to music on their earphones while dancing may hurt themselves while cooking. Being focused on the music and enjoying it puts the individual’s concentration on the wrong task. The concentration on cooking is lessened, thus injuries have a high possibility to occur.
Another point of Kirn was that we were already aware of these dangers. It is just buried deep in our minds. We are already expecting that something will go wrong because of multitasking.
This belief was oversimplified by Kirn. There are people, especially those who are born in the age of multitasking, who still believes that multitasking is an effective and positive phenomenon. It is not buried deep in their minds but is actually absent in their minds that multitasking can bring negative things and is ineffective.
But Kirn makes a good point that people already expect multitasking as ineffective. The reaction of most people when multitasking goes wrong is that they are not surprised. They were merely startled that it has gone wrong now. They begin to calm down and accept this change.
Technology may be the start of multitasking— technology and its false idealogy on freedom, convenience, efficiency, and mobility has blinded the people into believing on multitasking’s effectiveness. The use of technology, because of its handiness and ease of usage, has enabled people to do different tasks at once.
A good example is usage of music players while reading books. Because you can enjoy music on your own with the use of music players, you can also read books. Though you will focus more on the book you are reading, the music plays as your personal background.
Laptops also created a way for people to enjoy a lot of things via the use of a computer anywhere. While going home from work, a person can check his or her e-mail via the use of his laptop at the comfort of his own car. This goes the same for mobile phones. People enjoy their mobile phones anywhere, even while on the way hom, attending a party or on a long road trip off to the beach.
A humorous example is Kirn’s statement on kids today. He said “they’re the ones… , texting and instant messaging each other while they download music to their iPod and update their Facebook page and complete a homework assignment and keep an eye on the episode of The Hills flickering on a nearby television.” Supporting this statement is a study by the Kaiser Family Foundation:
A recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 53 percent of students in grades seven through 12 report consuming some other form of media while watching television; 58 percent multitask while reading; 62 percent while using the computer; and 63 percent while listening to music. (Kirn, The Autumn of Multitaskers)
The article of Kirn was well presented with humour that every reader will be interested on reading it. Despite of its humour, Kirn still effectively conveyed his message. He was effective in the sense that he presented facts and experiments on multitasking. His metaphors and his own real-life examples regarding the subject made the article stronger because it added more touch of reality in the paper.
His brief explanations also made any reader understand his article.
The numerous side comments and parenthetical statements made some of the paragraphs confusing though. With his lengthy comments and parenthetical statements, some of his sentences were difficult to understand. It made some of the paragraphs look cluttered and facts may have been misunderstood without re-reading the article or the paragraph.
Additional scientific explanations would have made the article more effective as it is. If he had elaborated on the process of information processing and the process of changing focus in the prefrontal cortex, readers may have been more informed about the subject.
The experiments, in order to show the credibility and factuality of his statements, were really important. It was vital in his article and it was a good choice that he chose a simple experiment that even a non-psychology student or graduate would be able to appreciate and understand.
Kirn, Walter. “The Autum of Multitaskers.” The Atlantic. November 2007. April 4, 2009 [http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200711/multitasking/]