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Life Interrupted 406

sch7572 writes "Seattle Times carried this story which may be of interest to those addicted to checking Slashdot for new stories every minute. Scientists are concerned that the Information Age is nurturing 'cognitive overload,' an umbrella term for the malaise people feel as a result of distraction, stress, multitasking, and data congestion related to increasingly sophisticated technologies. People multitask because it is expected, encouraged, and considered vital, yet cognitive scientist David Meyer reports that truly effective multitasking is beyond people's capabilities."
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Life Interrupted

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  • Arrrrrgggg! (Score:5, Funny)

    by dreamchaser ( 49529 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:50AM (#11218553) Homepage Journal
    Can't...handle...another...story...about how modern society and technology is stressing us out...too much stress...ughhh...must wrap head in duct tape before it explodes...
    • Re:Arrrrrgggg! (Score:2, Insightful)

      by zfusion ( 835968 )
      Looking at the comments I can see that everyone's attention span is on par with a dog. Did anyone here actually RTFA? The article obviously is very valid since everyone here is trying to do like 4+ things at the same time and doesn't have the attention span to actually get through the article.

      "So far, she's found that the average employee switches tasks every three minutes, is interrupted every two minutes and has a maximum focus stretch of 12 minutes."

      Well I guess maybe the article took more than 3
      • Re:Arrrrrgggg! (Score:3, Informative)

        I used to be able to code for 12 hours non-stop when I was 15, which was before I had a job, and before the internet was available to me. I'm 28 now and work as a developer. That 12 minute mark sounds about right.
        • Re:Arrrrrgggg! (Score:5, Insightful)

          by networkBoy ( 774728 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:53AM (#11219117) Homepage Journal
          According to the article we should focus on only one task at a time and not switch between tasks.

          This leaves me with two /.ish things to say:
          1) I will then focus all my attention on this thread until such time as I deem the task complete
          or
          2) As I focus myself on this threa . . . Oh look a new thingy to work on!

          This leads me to wonder if ADD / ADHD are actually coping mechanisms of the human mind? It kind of makes sense, as our brains are programmed for task switching at an early age with most kids being babysat by the TV and commercials being 30 seconds in length. Anybody know how long the feature program is between commercial breaks? 12 minutes perhaps?
          -nB
          • by plover ( 150551 ) *
            I don't know how long it is: I had to buy a Replay TV so I could make it to the end of the shows without the interruptions.

            Now, if only I didn't have to spend 4 minutes and 30 seconds hunting for the remote control...

          • Re:Arrrrrgggg! (Score:3, Insightful)

            by AlOfIt ( 839281 )
            I really don't spend much time on TV but when I'm ready for sleep I sometimes surf the cable offerings. I've noticed because of my ability to multitask that some cable channels have about 7 minutes between commercials.

            That is why I hate TV. If you took the commercials out of commercial TV it would be a big improvement to even the worst shows.
          • by rah1420 ( 234198 ) <rah1420@gmail.com> on Thursday December 30, 2004 @12:23PM (#11219967)
            ... which was published in the October Readers' Digest.

            Q: "How many ADD kids does it take to change a lightbulb?"

            A: "Let's go ride bikes."
          • Oh, that's why. (Score:3, Insightful)

            by edunbar93 ( 141167 )
            It kind of makes sense, as our brains are programmed for task switching at an early age with most kids being babysat by the TV and commercials being 30 seconds in length.

            That explains why I can focus for long periods of time, and in fact it seems that unlike everyone else, I have a hard time multitasking.

            I preferred public television as a child. :)
      • Did anyone here actually RTFA?
        Did you see how long that thing was ???!!
      • > Looking at the comments I can see that everyone's attention span is on par with a dog.

        That's ludicrous! I don't see how you can say that when--SQUIRREL!
    • must wrap head in duct tape before it explodes

      I think I saw that on MacGuyver once
    • Terminal Ennui (Score:4, Insightful)

      by chip of known space ( 844810 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @12:31PM (#11220039)
      I have something better: Terminal Ennui . There's cognitive overload, but that's not the real problem. The real problem today is that because of cognitive overload, we're made too objectively aware of the world. The traditional motivation to struggle to become the best at something is basically short-circuited today, as well can instantly see not only many other people doing the same things we're doing, but maybe better. Or, we can all too well see it having *already been done*. Leaving the sensation that there's no point in trying to do much of anything at all. Cognitive overload is just a precursor. Terminal ennui.
  • First Post (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:51AM (#11218556)
    I'm NOT checking every minute, just discovered this site.
  • by bje2 ( 533276 ) * on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:52AM (#11218566)
    i tried to RTFA, but between my e-mail, the internet radio i'm listening to, ESPN.com, and my actual work, I didn't have enough concentration...
    • Nonsense! (Score:4, Funny)

      by AthenianGadfly ( 798721 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:56AM (#11218611)
      The post implies that I'm splitting my attention between Slashdot and something else. The key here is to concentrate wholeheartedly on the refresh button, thus avoiding stress from multitasking.

      At least, I assume that's what the article says - I would have RTFA, but then I might miss the next comment posted here.

    • You know you joke about this, but it took serious effort on my part to ignore the IRC window / Instant Messages / Email Program to actually get through this article. I actually switched away from it 2 times to look at something else but forced myself back to it.

      I love technology, but it definately has some kind of effect on you (I don't know if it's good or bad), for example as of recently I can no longer sit and watch television, I get anxious sitting there trying to watch it, or I fall asleep. The only
      • I've noticed the same thing since I got a Tablet PC that I use at home. It's easy to sit with the wife while she watches TV and surf the web. Of course, I'm talking with her about what she's watching, browsing ESPN.com to see who the Tigers might pick up during the baseball offseason, keeping up on the markets over at Innovation Futures [innovationfutures.com] (where I won the Tablet PC), going through the daily email, and playing a Texas HoldEm table over at PartyPoker. All this is after putting my 3 kids to bed for the night,
      • "recently I can no longer sit and watch television, I get anxious sitting there trying to watch it, or I fall asleep."

        Heh - I do this too. I have the added bonus of my wife thinking I work too hard as a result. In reality I think I am more anxious about the "stress relief sessions" she gives to help out or I fall asleep waiting for them.

        Man I hate to rock the boat on this gig.
  • Psh (Score:3, Funny)

    by neoform ( 551705 ) <djneoform@gmail.com> on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:52AM (#11218567) Homepage
    I caan read sleashdot storees, louk at pron and recompile mi kernel ot the same tyme. no porblemms heere.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    "David Meyer reports that truly effective multitasking is beyond people's capabilities"...

    I wish he had some time to come over and talk to my employers.

  • I think it was Stephen Hawking that said he's not sure the human mind can really understand black holes and such.

    For my opinion, check my sig.

    • I think it was Stephen Hawking that said he's not sure the human mind can really understand black holes and such.

      that's just astro-physicist speak for "I bet you a cup of coffee that you can't write a p2p client in less than 5 lines of perl"
  • by WormholeFiend ( 674934 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:52AM (#11218574)
    cognitive scientist David Meyer reports that truly effective multitasking is beyond people's capabilities

    Not yet, but I think eventually it might not be beyond our capabilities, just like learning how to produce heat from wood, and now from splitting atoms.
    • I think you are comparing two very different things... Learning how to do ONE thing is easy for us (even if it takes time). Don't you think that learning how to adapt our own brains to work in a different way will be much harder?
    • If humanity is to "evolve" toward multitasking, then multitaskers must have more children than non-multitaskers. Evolution is not learned, it is breed in to the species. Given the "lack of sex" jokes on /. and the likelihood that /.ers are the closest humanity has to multitaskers, I'd wager that multitasking does not raise fitness levels.
    • it only takes practice and cognitive skills to effectively multitask.

      I had a friend in highschool that could take notes with his right hand, write his fictional stories with his left and hold a conversation.

      substitute teachers or new classes were great fun, the teacher trying to catch him screwing off would ask him a question, without even pausing he would give the correct answer, and his notes were a perfect transcript of the lesson from the words the teacher said, to questions asked and what was on the
      • by arivanov ( 12034 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @11:14AM (#11219306) Homepage
        Let's look at your examples:
        • Taking notes for a person who is in the custom of taking them can be a nearly automatic activity. It is not as such a demanding task in most cases. Half of the girls in my class in the university could do something else while taking perfectly annotated and readable notes. Some guys could do that as well, but I as most of them preferred to photocopy some of the stellar work done by the ladies :-)
        • Answering to a teacher question. Well... What question? When a lame teacher tries to use a question to catch a student that he/she is not paying attention that question is usually about some factlet which has been presented in the last 5 minutes. Recalling this is easy. Ask any husband with more then 5 years of marital experience. Or wife for that matter.
        • Writing fiction stories - dunno. Depends what fiction. But let's say that this is the primary task as far as your friend is concerned.
        • So overall - one primary, one secondary and good responce in handling interruptions. Sounds like the description of 75% of good students (at least in Europe) to me. Most people tend to lose it after leaving the Uni, but it is not something that requires an superbrain.

        As a comparison I will give you another example - I do not know a single person who is capable of simultaneously doing the mathematical models of two fundamentally different problems in different subject matter fields at the same time (and I know some very good mathematicians). Same for similar activities in physics, same for high efficiency algorithms and other high level (non-mundane) programming, so on so fourth. I do not think that it is possible to train in this. There are tasks where the human brain works at the limit of its capacity and there is no way anyone in his sane mind can multitask while doing them.

    • We can evolve to do that iff:

      • Ability to multitask is a genetic, hereditary trait
      • Some humans already have this trait, or it is likely that an extremely simple mutation will produce it
      • Ability to multitask is a reproduction advantage, that is, multitasking people have more surviving offspring on average

      I'd say it's doubtful that all three are true.

  • by SpongeBobLinuxPants ( 840979 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:53AM (#11218578) Homepage
    I don't see this as a problem. I can remember all the IP numbers of our servers and almost everyone's password... dammit I forgot to wear pants again to work.
    • I here ya. I'm convinced there is a point where anything new I learn will push out something old at random. Still waiting for the day I forget how to tie those thingies that dangle from my shoes.
  • No To Interruptions (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Nurgled ( 63197 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:53AM (#11218579)

    For a while now I've been anti-interruption. I shun any kind of unsolicited alert about events such as new email arriving, a friend signing on to an IM network or the phone ringing. I find I enjoy activities a lot more now that I can see them through to completion without beeping and flashing alerts interrupting me at arbitrary moments.

  • People multitask because it is expected, encouraged, and considered vital, yet cognitive scientist David Meyer reports that truly effective multitasking is beyond people's capabilities.


    Really? I can usually handle walking, chewing gum, talking and breathing all at once pretty well.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:54AM (#11218587)
    Right now I'm at work, downloading porn through p2p, hiding from my boss, checking slashdot, posting, eating breakfast, and I'm chatting with a buddy on an instant messenger program. And I'm chewing gum!

    But all those moms in SUVs with cell phones glued to their ear while they whack their kids scare me!
  • by jhines0042 ( 184217 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:54AM (#11218588) Journal
    I spent some time working in the support department for one of my previous companies. After a full day of answering phones, answering questions, problem solving, and tracking things down, I would come home and be absolutely exhausted. All of the constant context switching was very bad for my mental health. Sure, I was able to do the job, but it totally numbed my brain out and made me a tired, frustrated person.

    Now as a software engineer I try to work on only one thing at a time. If I try to do more than that then all of my efforts fall behind. If I can focus on one task though, it gets done and done right.

    • Exactly. What everyone else considers boring and routine I find extraordinarily dull (and did before the beeping and flashing and blinking and beeping!) but with the ability to absorb so much (that's what geeks are known for), I find that I'm able to exercise my mind a lot more. The speed at which I read has doubled over the last year or so (that goes for off-line as well as on-line reading), my typing is faster and usually more accurate, and I can watch TV, use the computer, and still have meaningful int
    • the hardest part of anything is getting started. If you are interrupted, you're constantly restarting; if your job is responding to customers, even a moderately busy day is exhausting.

      I find it easier to go into my cave and code for 18 hours straight than to answer phones for three or four hours.
  • So what do we do? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by mOoZik ( 698544 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:55AM (#11218601) Homepage
    I don't multi-task because I HAVE to, but often because I WANT to. I monitor a couple of dozen sites and I enjoy reading them. I like learning new stuff, constantly expanding my understanding of the world and of myself. Maybe it works for some and not others, but I wouldn't have it any other way. It just seems boring to me to do one thing at a time, not to mention a complete waste of precious time.

    • by Infonaut ( 96956 )
      don't multi-task because I HAVE to, but often because I WANT to.

      Most of us probably feel that way, but the larger question is why do we want to multitask so much, and when we do multitask are we actually losing something in the process? Looking back on the time in my life before I became jacked in to the Net (my teens and early 20s), I realize that I spent a lot more time actually *thinking deeply* about things than I do now. These days I am aware of a broad range of interesting and useful information,

    • by Seekerofknowledge ( 134616 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:31AM (#11218909)
      If you had RTFA you would know that you are a dellusioned individual. You "WANT to" because you are addicted to the dopamine that is released each time you learn "new stuff" or "expand [your] understanding of the world".

      Tell me, do you feel down, or groggy, or in any way sad, when you do not monitor your couple of dozen sites? What happens when you go for a day or two without internet access? These would be withdrawal symptoms.

      So, you show a prime example of the problem -- no, in fact your are the very epidome. You think you are using every conceivable second of your life to the fullest. You have this push to experience everything immediately and constantly. But for what reason? Why do they have to all occur simultaneously? More importantly, how did you come about the decision that doing only one thing at a time is "complete waste of precious time"!?

      Logically following your views to their conclusion would mean that the moment you focus on anything it becomes a waste of time. This is so absolutely flawed, I am now speechless.

      Please take an objective view of yourself, and discover what your motives (if any) are for feeling the way you do. Then please respond and tell me how they are not in any way related to your dopamine addiction.
      • by Twanfox ( 185252 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @11:59AM (#11219750)
        Here's a few reasons why multitasking is generally necessary for some aspects of life:

        1) 24 hours in the day, approx 8 of which are downtime/sleep. Most of us also portion out 9 or so to earning our keep, and a couple hours get lost due to necessary evils (travel, taking a breather, movement in general). That usually leaves about 5 hours of time during which you can do your own thing. You can push that figure upwards (scrape off hours of sleep, skip work, arrange things so that your wasted couple of hours are more like 30 minutes). However, when you think about it, 5 hours really isn't that long a time to do much during the week.

        2) Multiple interests. Myself, I love to play music (piano, clarinet, guitar -- still learning the last one), play video games (PC, PS2), program applications, maintain my network, watch some TV shows, etc. Not the least of those interests is keeping up with friends and going out to do things with them. Now, of course there is the whole 'priority' thing going on here of which I want to do more, but regardless, the list is fairly expansive.

        These two things lead to a problem. How do I do as many things as I want to do in the limited time that I have available? It's true that my 'weekday' listing only allows roughly 5 hours of free time to myself, and that it ignores the roughly 14 hours I get on a weekend day, it still shows that the time that I have available to me to do all the things I want to do is limited. Some things take more time than I can allow for on a weekday. Some things that I want to do are low priority because they're new and atypical, yet I still really want to do them.

        This can be summed up very easily in a bastardized phrase I learned from Economics. Limited Resources for Unlimited Wants. I want to do far more than I have time for, if I were to do them back to back. As some of those wants are even time dependant (keeping up with friends is a good one for that), if those are not done, then the opportunity is lost. The only answer that I can come up with is multitasking. Be it combining tasks into one (a simple method) or doing multiple tasks at once (true multitasking), that seems to me to be the only way to attend to as many of the wants as I can for the given time period.

        Even with multitasking, I know I will not have time for everything I want to do, but at least I will be able to do more of them and not miss out on time-dependant tasks. I personally do not see this view as delusional or logically flawed. My approach to the problem may be different than the one you may choose, but it is still valid.

        P.S. Dispite being a different individual than the parent of your post, while doing one thing at a time is not (to me) a 'complete waste of precious time', it is not using that time to it's fullest, either. If you have the capacity to do multiple things at once, and you do not do that, it can be viewed as wasting time.
    • by Znork ( 31774 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @11:13AM (#11219305)
      Unfortunately, wanting to does not protect your brain from damage caused by prolonged exposure to stress hormones. Those getting hit by stress burnout are often the ones that want to and enjoy what they do.
  • by Saven Marek ( 739395 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:56AM (#11218605)
    People multitask because it is expected, encouraged, and considered vital, yet cognitive scientist David Meyer reports that truly effective multitasking is beyond people's capabilities."


    I suspect this is where the problem lies. The difference between "effective multitasking" and "bumming on the internet" is the crucial point. Both are attempting jumping from one task to another, the first for a pupose say doing your job. The second doesnt have a purpose or a structure so it has no more purpose than doing it itself.

    It is almost as if you are addicted to performing a task (browsing the internet) and the performing of the task becomes the goal, instead of working towards, something at the end.

    Net Online Anime Gallery's [sharkfire.net]
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Oddly, that "bumming the internet" might be the cognitive release for some of us. It's a very strange balance. I know that if I do my job properly, correctly, and efficiently, I can do it quickly and it will get done well; however, I'm left drained at the end of the day. If I balance some reasonable non-thinking in with the bunch, I accomplish nearly as much, as well, and I'm not left spent after a long day. When it comes down to crunch, of course, it's all business--but things wind up getting sloppy if
  • I, for one, enjoy "cognitive overload." I revel in chaos, and sometimes I'll stay up all night, then go to sleep in my room when it's a freakin mess, the music on, lights on, window open, in my clothes, and in an unmade bed. Cognitive overload all the way!
  • Protect Your Time (Score:5, Informative)

    by wwest4 ( 183559 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @09:58AM (#11218620)

    In fact, multitasking -- a computing term that involves doing, or trying to do, more than one thing at once -- has cemented itself into our daily lives and is intensely studied. Research has shown it to be consistently counterproductive, often foolish, unhealthy in the long run, and in the case of gabbing on the cell phone while driving, relatively dangerous. Yet it is also expected, encouraged and basically essential.


    Amen. Now we need the actual studies so that we can cite them for our bosses and clients so they can stop expecting it.

    Once you have some sympathy from your PHB: The best defense, in this case, is a good offense. Declare office hours. Partition your time into usable, contiguous chunks dedicated to single tasks, and stick to the plan. You'll be glad you did.

  • I find that in math, if I work on several problems at the same time, all the while surfing or reading/writing email I can get it done just as fast, and perhaps more deeply than if I tackeled each one separately and sequentially. I guess it's the same in programming. If you get stuck on some pesky function, you leave it for a while, work on something else and then come back to it when you have a new idea. Don't tell me people can't multitask. BS.
    • "I find that in math, if I work on several problems at the same time, all the while surfing or reading/writing email I can get it done just as fast, and perhaps more deeply than if I tackeled each one separately and sequentially. I guess it's the same in programming. If you get stuck on some pesky function, you leave it for a while, work on something else and then come back to it when you have a new idea. Don't tell me people can't multitask. BS."

      That would be emulated multi-tasking.

      Kind of like computers
      • I don't think that the point is that we can't perform multiple tasks at the same instant. I think the article was more trying to suggest that the context-switching necessary for a human to perform "pre-emptive multitasking" as a modern operating system does is not only slow but also quite stressful and tiring. Computers can do it in a fraction of a second, but humans take far longer.

        (This is ignoring processes which are more-or-less instinctive, such as walking.)



  • And here I sit, ghosting a PC, installing Panther on a laptop, reading Slashdot, and nibbling at some code (oops, and talking on the phone because it just rang as I was typing this). So am I distracted and not getting anything done, or am I multitasking?

    A great article, very much worth the read.
  • Older people (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Schezar ( 249629 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:01AM (#11218652) Homepage Journal
    I find it interesting that, at least in the studies I've read about this, that it affects mostly adults, and younger people are largely immune to it.

    The young techno-elite grew (and are growing) up immersed in this sea of information, and are adapting to it. The older generations, having grown up in a much slower-paced environment, have difficulty adapting to the rapid change in the information channels available to them.

    Personally, I love having this information available. I crave it. I'm constantly aware of the state of the world around me. When something of note happens to one of my friends, that knowledge circulates throughout our social circle almost immediately.

    For anyone who's read Snow Crash, there are people referred to as "Gargoyles." They are connected to the net 100% of the time, interacting with it through wearable computing and visual overlays, streaming and feeding information as fast as possible concurrently with their physical life.

    The idea might scare some people, but I find it fascinating.

    I suppose it's simply that older people, not being used to this mass of information, are not ready to cope with the fact that most information is useless. Part of the ability to accept the input is the ability to filter the wheat from the chaff.

    I read slashdot several times a day, but I don't read every comment or every article. I read the ones that will be useful to me in some way. I'm connected to the net most of the time, but I ignore an incoming IM if I'm busy doing something else.

    People who aren't used to this environment have trouble ingoring things. You know the type. People who insist on answering the phone no matter how busy they are at that moment. People who check their email immediately whenever they reveive a "new mail" notification. These people can't cope with the available information, and are overwhelmed by it.
    • Re:Older people (Score:5, Insightful)

      by sphealey ( 2855 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:10AM (#11218729)
      [...]The older generations, having grown up in a much slower-paced environment, have difficulty adapting to the rapid change in the information channels available to them.[...]I suppose it's simply that older people, not being used to this mass of information, are not ready to cope with the fact that most information is useless. Part of the ability to accept the input is the ability to filter the wheat from the chaff.[...]
      I suppose that is possible.

      However, speaking (sadly enough) as a member of the "older generation" who actually implmented some of the changes in technology and communication you discuss in the far-distant 1980s and 90s, let me offer this: I used to work in industrial facilities designed and built in the 1920-1940 time period. Along with my "young people", "progressive" coworkers I spent a lot of time, effort, and money "upgrading" these facilities to what we considered "better" technology. All fully computerized of course.

      Looking back on what we did, I now realize that those engineers from the 1940s were a lot smarter than we were, and thought about the problems they were assigned a lot more deeply than we did (you see this all the time in VoIP today). The "improvements" that we installed to replace that "archiac" technology were not, in retrospect, necessarily improvements, and may not have done anyone any good.

      E-mail is another good example. I have been using it since the late 1970s. During the 1985-1995 time frame it may have actually been a net productivity gain. Today? Probably the biggest productivity destroyer out there.

      Be careful what you wish for. You may get it.

      sPh

    • People who check their email immediately whenever they reveive a "new mail" notification

      When you get only maybe two emails a day, you will understand.
    • The young techno-elite grew (and are growing) up immersed in this sea of information, and are adapting to it.

      If by adapting you mean using more and more ritalin, then you're right.
    • That is exactly my reaction. I'm 22 and have grown up in this sort of environment. I'm quite confortable with my gadgets, instant information, and fast pace because its normal. I know how to relax and not let things bother me and really don't worry about stress because its never affected me. What I find more irritating is the slow-down, when I'm not plugged in. I do like to take breaks and unconnected vacations, but an enforced inability only leaves me frustrated and feeling rather isolated (not in general,
    • I think you make a very valid point, but I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say younger generations are "immune" to it. For the younger generations, it's normal -- they've known nothing else.

      The article makes the assumption that this new normal is bad. That in itself is questionable, but probably not entirely wrong. We're interrupted, we're context-switching, we're not capable of paying attention, etc. Older generations feel more stress in this kind of environment. Remove the constant flow of informati

    • Re:Older people (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Avumede ( 111087 )
      I call bullshit. If you think that younger people don't have about the same context switching costs as older people, or can store more than the 7 +/- 2 pieces of information in their head at once, please post a cite showing this. I doubt you will be able to.

      Your post may be true for something, but it certainly isn't true for what this article talks about, which is the dangers of multitasking.
    • Re:Older people (Score:5, Insightful)

      by orac2 ( 88688 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @11:50AM (#11219656)
      ind it interesting that, at least in the studies I've read about this, that it affects mostly adults, and younger people are largely immune to it.

      Hmm, first, which studies?

      Secondly, and more to the point, "younger people are largely immune to it" so far. Youth implies a shorter exposure to the hazards of multitasking, not neccesarily a greater inherent resistance to it's ill effects.

      In fact, Human Resource departments and therapists are seeing more and more people are burning out in their mid-twenties. Stress releated conditions, such as ulcers, hypertension, etc, normally seen in middle age, are becoming increasingly common in younger and younger individuals.

      So you can't state "younger people are largely immune" until you have actually seen them grow older without ill effect, and the early evidence is not on your side.

      suppose it's simply that older people, not being used to this mass of information

      It's been decades since an average person could first easily recieve vastly more information in a day than they could ever process. (For an interesting historical sidetrip, look up the 19th century origins of the hypothysised medical condition "neurasthesia," attributed to the prevalance of the telegraph and telephone and how they sped up the pace of life. Even if neurasthesia is a bogus condition, it tells you something about how long information overload has been an issue.) Don't fall victim to an intellectual version of the same "immortality syndrome" that convinces teenagers they can engage in any reckless physical behavior they choose, because they, unlike all the old people, will never die.
  • by NotYourMother ( 724060 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:04AM (#11218669)
    Have been effectively multitasking for years. Unless of course they are addicted to crack.
  • I can't do more than four things at once for a few reasons:
    1. I'm not female - they multitask better than men.
    2. I've only got two hands and two feet. It gets a bit stressful when you're down to your last limb and the phone rings.
    3. http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/health/4101215.stm [bbc.co.uk]
  • by CrazyJim1 ( 809850 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:06AM (#11218691) Journal
    If you knew how to manage your base while fighting, you would be more effective in battle. This carried over to Starcraft and Warcraft3 where I was vastly superior to other players. Its critical to multitask in games like that, but its helped me learn how to multitask other things.

    One thing multitasking isn't good for is programming complex things while doing other things. When we're programming, we need to use our memory to keep track of all the variables and threads going on. If we start doing others things, we can be distracted because our brain has trouble with the memory and it impairs our coding.

    Another thing that's not good to multitask is driving with a cell phone. If you get too caught up in the conversation, your attention can be diverted from the road. You can normally drive like a zombie, but in times of emergency response you could be screwed. Also if someone does something stupid to cause a wreck, people may blame your cell phone even if you weren't at fault.
    • I love how people jump up and down about cell phone use while driving. What about eating? Tuning the radio? Talking to someone IN the car? Yelling at the kids in the back seat torturing the dog? No need to mention the INSANITY of women applying makeup while driving.

      All these things distract as much if not more than a simple cell phone call, yet the black sheep is the phone. Strange, is it not?
  • All I have to say (Score:3, Insightful)

    by H3lldr0p ( 40304 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:07AM (#11218701) Homepage
    is that I can see the fnords!
  • by Mr. Cancelled ( 572486 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:09AM (#11218718)
    It's not like we read the stories...

    Just look at the comments people leave. It's pretty obvious that the average Slashdotters attention span is about that of a -Oh look a bunny!
  • I can definitely say I'm affected by this..
    To the point that sometimes I feel like "tweak" from South Park. (not because of caffeine either.. because I'm off the caffeine )

    Its the only addiction I allow myself.. so don't you DARE take that away from me!
  • by asliarun ( 636603 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:12AM (#11218743)
    I think the article is generalizing too much. Firstly, multi-tasking is the wrong word to use as we're not simultaneously doing two or more activities, but are doing it in a round-robin, pre-emptive, or time-sharing kind of way. Again, one's ability to successfully pull this off depends on one's temperament, prioritization ability, and the kind of work involved. Repetitive work can easily be done in this way, for example, simply because after sufficient practise, the work itself becomes mechanical and doesn't need any cognitive ability. On the other hand, work that requires genuine thinking effort is done best without interruption, especially when one is in the "flow" or "zone". Again, if a person has the mental discipline to ignore other interruptions or re-priorotize the distractions, it's not too much of a problem.

    In another vein, we've always had distractions, and the ones posed by technology are just a new form of it. What separates an efficient individual from an inefficient one is the ability to block out these distractions when needed, and only focus on the goal at hand. The rest is all FUD that these so-called cognitive experts throw in to justify their existence. I'm fedup of these experts extrapolating some extreme cases and generalizing them to create non-existent issues.

    Cognitive overload. Bah. We've always had cognitive overload. Only the jingo is new. I think i should change my profession and start bullshitting my way into some real money.
  • "All of this digital e-Crap is driving us all ^%$#@!& bonkers."
  • This is why IT attracts the ADHD folks. Switching between tasks keeps me from being bored and actually stimulates my interest in a challenging way.

    ADD people actually sit around wondering why everyone else cannot keep up with them and their racing, high-speed minds.

    "Doesn't everyone cycle through five things at once in their mind?"

    Now of course, I must mention that every couple of months my world completely explodes and I must spend entire weekends doing nothing more than staring at the wall while I

  • It leads to wasted effort and stress, which leads to sloppy work.

    Work hard, play hard, but not simultaneously.

    When I'm working, coding or debugging or whatever, I'm like a dog with a bone, and I don't leave the task at hand until it's done. If anyone comes into my office and asks me for something, I tell them "when I'm done".

    I accomplish a whole lot more this way, the code I write is better, so I spend less time debugging and testing, and in turn spend less time supporting it in the field (small company
  • People have known about this for a long time, and it's been studied to death. I know that for those that see my posts I often mention aviation, but here we go again;

    During flight training, one of the first things that you're taught is to focus on the important stuff first, and prioritize. Don't let an interruption from air traffic control interrupt the flow involved in actually flying the plane... don't let an attempt at navigation/location get in the way of flying the plane... in fact set your priorities
  • Mmmn (Score:2, Interesting)

    by eSavior ( 767078 )
    I cant speak for everyone with ADD. But as someone who was diagnosed in the 5th grade. I must say that if I am not doing atleast 3 things at once my brain shuts down. If I am doing only one thing I get really bored and quit. I function best when I have a ton of things going on. Email + refershing 3 different forums + irc + /. + gaim + groklaw(loading it always takes forever) + purevolume(playing a band) + RSS feeds coming in + emerge -u world on test machine. My machine doesnt go 20 seconds without some sor
  • Something tells me that we already have budding multitaskers in our midst. Unfortunately, they are medicated into monotaskers because everyone thinks they have Attention Deficient Disorder ro some form of hyperactivity problem. Given that all the authorities are aging monotaskers, it no surprise that they can't deal with people who can't help multitasking because they have been raised in a task-rich, info-rich, stimulation-rich environment.
  • by Dr. Evil ( 3501 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @10:25AM (#11218863)

    I've told management: "I don't want to run an instant messenger, it hurts my productivity and is very stressful"

    They replied: "It's the way we're doing business as a team"

    Now I'm looking for a job elsewhere, because exactly as described in the article, I'm exhausted at the end of the day, I have a backlog of projects like you wouldn't imagine, it's stupid.

    I've found myself reluctant to focus on complex tasks because I expect to be interrupted. Interruptions from instant messaging are often emergencies which occupy a whole day with stupid little updates and inappropriate prioritization. It seems the A-hole bugging you on IM is more important than the person silently and patiently waiting for the scheduled deadline.

    I forget things, I can't read a document to completion or properly compose replies to email. Infact... right now, I'm avoiding a complex task... my IM will crackle to life any second with some stupid emergency. It feels futile to even get started when it takes an hour just to set things up to start working on it. Four times in the past two weeks, my instant messenger has dragged me into some emergency which has prevented me from working on it.

    I'm trying to push management back to a usenet-style system for "I need help!" emergencies and a careful analysis of timelines and responsibility (i.e. fault and impact) before anyone picks up a phone. There's nothing wrong with interrupting people if there's an emergency, but management should be able to prevent it from reaching that point.

    (Hey look, I got an instant message! and it should only take about two hours to deal with. Glad I didn't get started on that project.)

  • I don't check Slashdot stories every minute. I have no idea what they're talking about. I don't even know what Slashdot is... yeah, that's the ticket. I don't even own a computer. The internet... what's that? Yeah, that's the ticket!
  • What worries me is the collapse of things like peer review.

    In the past, if you wanted to get somthing into a scientific journal, you had to pass through 'security' in the form of peer review.

    The notion of fact checking has been fading from our society. While I personally favor the ability to query a variety of sources and tell fact from fiction myself, at the risk of sounding arrogant I worry that some others might be less adept. Far be it from me to actually argue for the centralization of power, but I w
  • I think part of the problem with this, and many other similar studies, is that the results don't generalize well.

    Personal example - I can deal with a fair amount of multiple tasking as long as it's the right kind of task. However, some things require concentration. For myself, this means putting headphones on and turning on some music. If I don't have something that will tune out everything else, I fall right back into "do a little of everything mode".

    On the other hand, my wife has to be focused and has

  • "His study -- "Stressed Out on Four Continents: Time Crunch or Yuppie Kvetch?" -- found that the better off one is, the more he or she seems to complain about the time pinch. How can this be? Your opportunities and expectations grow as you grow wealthier, he theorizes, but time, which is finite, doesn't keep up."

    The simplier explanation is that as one has more and more money, it's relative value goes down and one is willing to spend less time for the same amount of money, ie time becomes more valuable. Sim
  • I find, personally, that I will context switch if I'm doing a task that makes me wait more than 10 or so seconds. Compiling is a great example. Who can sit still and just wait for it to compile? It's a perfect time to browse the web, which leads to its own set of distractions.

    Probably, if compiles and other long tasks were much shorter, it would be easier to maintain focus. Or perhaps I need to train myself to simply wait.
  • Another article (Score:3, Interesting)

    by AviLazar ( 741826 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @11:00AM (#11219188) Journal
    Around Spring of 2003, an article came out showing that people who multi-task are actually less efficient then people who do not multi-task. A number of tests were done and what it boiled down to is that every time you switch from one task to the next your brain has to reorganize. This wastes (noticeable) time. Also, even though you might be able to start working - your brain may not be finished reorganizing itself so you may not remember everything you do at the start.

    I kind of agree and use some real life examples. For those of us who program - you sit down, you get in your grove and you start to code. Then someone calls. I generally have to unfocus from what I am doing and take a couple of seconds before I can even understand what the person wants. Then, when I am finished with the call, it takes me a few seconds to get back into my work (and hell I might of lost my grove).
  • by ssclift ( 97988 ) on Thursday December 30, 2004 @11:23AM (#11219395)

    I'm reminded of a note on Dr. Donald Knuth's [stanford.edu] web page. Dr. Knuth apparently ditched e-mail in 1990 [stanford.edu] after 15 years of use.

    Email is a wonderful thing for people whose role in life is to be on top of things. But not for me; my role is to be on the bottom of things. What I do takes long hours of studying and uninterruptible concentration.

  • by n-baxley ( 103975 ) <nate@baxlREDHATeys.org minus distro> on Thursday December 30, 2004 @01:41PM (#11220751) Homepage Journal
    This is slightly off topic, but there was a line in the article about getting customized news: if all your information is tailored to what you want to know, you may miss that which you don't know you want to know, and should. I often worry about this from reading slashdot too much. (Am I really becoming just a paranoid liberal geek?) The problem that I have is that I can't find news sources that are evenly balanced. All of the news sources seem to be so focused on telling people what they want to hear that you can't find out what you should be hearing. Wether it's conservative vs liberal, Microsoft vs Open Source, this company or that company. Every news source seems to have an agenda and I have to pick my sources based on the least of all evils or read 10 different sources to get the news. It may be lazy, but I shouldn't have to work this hard to get a balanced source of news.

    Anyway, anyone else feel this way and have some options?

Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing had happened. -- Winston Churchill

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