Dear Grandparenting: I think you might have covered this one before, but it is a biggie between me and my grandkids. They would have me believe that they can do the impossible. They can do two or even three or maybe four things at once! Without hurting their performance! My grandkids can talk on the phone and do homework, no sweat. They can watch a hockey game on iPad and fill out summer job applications. They can write for their school newspaper and be doing that Facebook thing. I have seen them do it!
Now let me tell you how the human brain works. The neuroscience smart guys say it’s not happening. The brain cannot pay attention to two things at once. It has to hop back and forth between whatever. And there is a cost for believing that “multi-tasking” works. There is a decrease in efficiency or production or whatever you measure. When you take on two tasks simultaneously, each task ends up taking longer to complete. Your results also suffer. It is a big lose-lose.
I wish you would weigh in about this. My grandkids are like other grandkids who think technology has made them smarter and it can’t be bad. I say the brain science is 100 percent on my side. Where do you come down on “multi-tasking?” Curious, Fishkill, New York
Dear Curious: You are right about the science, so let’s cut to the quick: Do we think people can multitask? Sure. Do we think people can multitask well? Nope. Do we think multi-tasking is counter-productive? Yes.
There’s your answer, but it’s a little more complicated. Scientists have been bashing multitasking for a while now, but the myth persists that it’s a desirable skill. Millions still swear by it, and most of them are grandchildren. Multitasking is technology-driven, and nobody embraces technology like America’s youth.
Have you ever tried talking on the phone while driving? We have, and it was scary — in a matter of seconds, we realized we were unsafe at any speed. Combining tasks like eating while walking or reading is doable because they don’t burden the brain. Throw in a more complex job — walking while using a smart phone — and the whole operation quickly dumbs down. The brain starts to flip between tasks, changing focus in as little as 1/10 of a second. Incessant stops and starts rob the brain of its capacity to learn or comprehend.
Many grandchildren regard multitasking as a necessity or a badge of honor — their ticket to ride in the competitive global economy. Recent research confirms that about 2 percent of the population is endowed with a genetic gift that allows them to effectively multitask. The other 98 percent are kidding themselves. What’s more, researchers say individuals who think they are the best multitaskers are in fact almost always the worst.
GRAND REMARK OF THE WEEK
Michael from Kingsport, Tennessee, says “no cowboy was ever as fast on the draw” as he is pulling photos of his grandchildren out of his wallet “to show the world.”
Dee and Tom, married more than 50 years, have eight grandchildren. Together with Key, they welcome questions, suggestions and Grand Remarks of the Week. Send to P.O. Box 27454, Towson, MD, 21285. Call 410-963-4426.