The Multitasking Myth

I can’t and won’t refute that technology plays a huge role in how generations are shaped. Trends, careers, fads, etc. are all affected in some way by technological accomplishments of the time. I don’t, however, believe that kids of this current generation are in some way different from other generations in how their brains truly process information. They certainly think about things differently than those in other generations but that is the same in all generations.

Let’s focus on multitasking. There are those that have said that kids of this generation are better at multitasking because of technology. Here is how I define what effect technology has made on humans in general.

If you consider the CPU of a computer to be the equivalent of the human brain and you consider programs to be the equivalent of tasks humans perform then this explanation might make more sense in understanding why technology hasn’t made the new generation better at multitasking it has just made some tasks easier to do while doing other tasks.

Consider this comparison:

Let’s say we need to access a program on our computer. Using the same computer the program might use 10% of the CPU to complete the task when the program is written in the PHP programming language. The same program might require 20% of the processor to complete if written in a different language such as PERL. That leaves less of the CPU available to perform other tasks at the same time.

How about a real life example. The telephone when I was growing up was for the most part a stationary fixture in our home. This means that when I’m on the phone most if not all of my brain resources are either in use, or simply immobilized because other tasks I was capable of doing were across the room and thus I was just stuck and couldn’t perform those other tasks. In a sense, the task of talking on the phone utilized nearly 80% or more of my computing power because the programming wouldn’t allow for some tasks to begin until the first task was complete.

Now take the same phone conversation and put it in this day and age and you can go anywhere you need to work on other things while talking. Your brain doesn’t need to wait for as many of the tasks you used to have to wait to complete as you used to. The programming simply got better and more efficient, not the processor or brain. Technology has simply created a way of utilizing our brains capability more to do more and we all have the same basic processing power technology or not.

With all the technology available I do believe kids are more likely to use technologies more often to multi-task certain tasks other generations wouldn’t, but that doesn’t mean they are better at it then other generations.

In the end I believe multitasking ability is based more on individual brain physiology, personality, need, and interest and not simply your generation or quantity of technologies you own.

As a final thought I would like to challenge and refute that listening to music while performing other tasks such as studying, talking on the phone, running, or most anything else is not multitasking. It’s background or ambient entertainment which shouldn’t be categorized in the same way driving a car or installing memory are. Case in point, I’ve been listening to music the entire time I’ve been writing this post and at no time did I feel my brain needed to actively process the music as I wrote. It is a passive process that you can choose how much processing power you give to it but it is very little.


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