What!? Millennials Aren't Multitasking Superheroes?
- August 24th, 2009
- 6 Comments
I’ll never forget the afternoon I interviewed three teens up at Tam High in Marin for Totally Wired when I asked them about multitasking. Of course all three admitted to having multiple browsers open, checking social networking sites, IMing, texting and listening to music while studying. Then came the moment of honesty when one of the teens told me, “It’s really hard to concentrate.”
There have been lots of studies showing that performing multiple tasks at once is impossible (vs. task switching), and that it creates a state of continuous partial attention where something ends up suffering. But at the same time, many of us have wondered whether Millennials, who have grown up “wired,” have developed the ability to switch tasks faster and as a result, be more productive. Maybe their brains are even changing as a result of “growing up digital.”
Bad news on this front. A study out today from a group of Stanford researchers found, “People who are regularly bombarded with several streams of electronic information do not pay attention, control their memory or switch from one job to another as well as those who prefer to complete one task at a time.” The people they studied? Students! According to the article they sent me, “the researchers are still studying whether chronic media multitaskers are born with an inability to concentrate or are damaging their cognitive control by willingly taking in so much at once. But they’re convinced the minds of multitaskers are not working as well as they could.”
This study, and others that I’m sure will follow, should be a wake-up call to all of us that in order to really concentrate, we have to limit our inputs—work offline, refrain from surfing every five minutes, put on those away messages, etc. if we want to perform better at school and at work. Easier said than done, I know.
Update: A reader emailed: There was another study highlighted on NPR late last year that talked about multitasking capabilities by age. Apparently, we hit our peak of multitasking in college!