How Multitasking Effects on Our Brain

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Multitasking, a practice used by many people to complete multiple tasks at once, seems beneficial to the user, but recent research shows that this practice causes more distractions. Alexandra Samuel argues in her essay, “‘Plug in Better’: A Manifesto”, that by getting rid of all of the distractions caused by multitasking, the time spent on the computer can be used more efficiently. As businesses in today’s world are using computers to help employees be more efficient in the workplace, each worker should only have to handle one task at a time to maximize their efficiency. Richard Restak argues in his essay, “Attetion Deficit: The Brain Syndrome of Our Era,” that by not diverting a person’s attention to multiple activities at once, such person will be more inclined to stay on task and have a more vibrant brain compared to one of a multitasker. The article, “Attached to Technology and Paying a Price,” written for the New York Times by Matt Richtel, gives scientific evidence about the effects of multitasking and an example of a family where some relatives prefer the use of a computer over quality bonding time. Families like the Campbell family, as mentioned in Richtel’s article, have diverted their attention to individual virtual worlds, and as a result, always have an excuse to avoid real world connections and conversations. As the obsession of being efficient continues to grow, many people feel the need to multitask in order to get multiple tasks done at once; however, research shows that multitasking only creates more distractions, resulting in a loss of focus, an alteration of imperative brain functions, and possibly a disorder known as ADHD or ADD.

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Many businesses, with the expected outcome of more efficient employees, have installed a computer into every workspace. Samuel corrects this outcome in her article by explaining, “Whether it’s an overflowing inbox, a backlog of unread articles or a Twitter feed that moves faster than we can read, most of us are suffering from an information overload.” By having multiple programs open at once, such as a web browser, word processor, and email application, people are overloading themselves with too much information, and are therefore less efficient. Richtel explains how multitasking has been scientifically proven to be less efficient by stating, “While many people say multitasking makes them more productive, research shows otherwise. Heavy multitaskers actually have more trouble focusing and shutting down irrelevant information, scientists say, and they cause more stress.” By only selecting one task at a time to complete, one can stop the information overload causing the loss of focus and the ability to let go of useless figures and programs. However, a loss of focus is not only the consequence of multitasking. A disorder, or as Sam Horn describes it, “. . . a distinctive type of brain organization,” called ADHD causes odd behaviors such as restlessness in children and impatience in adults (Restak 413-414). Restak describes ADHD’s involvement in the workplace by stating, “In order to be successful in today’s workplace you have to incorporate some elements of ADD/ADHD” (416). Multitasking has made the behaviors stated above normal in the workplace, but the symptoms from ADHD or ADD can be limited by reserving a person’s attention to one matter at a time. Though working on only one task at a time may seem less efficient at first, having to switch between programs could cause a loss of focus due to the many distractions such programs could bring about.

As multitasking has not only created a loss of productivity in the business world, many families are experiencing a loss of bonding time and connection between relatives due to the constant involvement each relative has in their own virtual worlds. Samuel gives an example of an unplugged family by stating, “The urge to unplug often comes from the image of a teen texting her way through family dinner, a dad on his Blackberry at the playground, or a family that sits on the same room but engages with four different screens. But the off switch is not that family’s best friend: If anything, the idea of unplugging for family time just sets up an unwinnable war between family intimacy and online connectivity.” The use of mobile devices such as tablet computers and smartphones does help people to become more efficient, but such efficiency needs to be balanced with time spent bonding with family and friends. Richtel adds on to this idea by stating, “Scientists say juggling e-mail, phone calls and other incoming information can change how people think and behave. They say our ability to focus is being undermined by bursts of information.” As parents are too involved talking to their colleagues and friends over the Internet, they miss precious time spent with their children, therefore showing that multitasking has taken away their ability to only focus on more important matters. David Shenk, as mentioned by Restak explains, “We often feel life going be much, much faster than we wise, as we are carried forward from meeting to meeting, call to call, errand to errand” (416). By mothers and fathers focusing on the devices in their hands, children, who by nature require a great deal of attention from their parents, are not able to receive such approval for their actions. By not receiving this approval, a child can develop insecurity, one of the many symptoms of ADHD. Family members disconnected in the real world but connected to others in their virtual worlds shows a lack of bonding, approval, and deciding on what matters most.

As people continue to use multitasking as a way to become more efficient while working, they are only hurting vital brain functions such as retention and making themselves prone to developing a case of ADHD or ADD. Though corporate officials expecting more productivity from their employees may order the installation of computers with multiple monitors, completing one task at a time is scientifically proven to help people minimize the time needed to complete a certain task. Likewise, many families have been split apart by each relative’s personal virtual worlds, and therefore have multitask virtual world interactions and real world bonding time with the people who matter most. By trying to multitask these activities, the parents of such a family could have a lack of decision-making skills, proved as a direct result of constant multitasking, to select whether the cell phone or the children matter more. Research shows that multitasking alters vital brain functions and creates odd behaviors seen as symptoms of ADHD, and therefore shows that only focusing on one important activity at a time is both more efficient and healthier.

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