Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Listen Up!

"It's a digital literacy skill. Our gadgets and all the things we look at on them are designed to not let us single-task. We weren't talking about this before because we simply weren't as distracted."
"That's why you feel tired [constant switching between tasks] at the end of the day. You've used them [neural resources] all up."
Manoush Zomorodi, host, Note to Self podcast, WYNC Studios

"[Monotasking is] something that needs to be practised. It's an important ability and a form of self-awareness as opposed to a cognitive limitation."
"Almost any experience is improved by paying full attention to it."
"Research shows that just having a phone on the table is sufficiently distracting to reduce empathy and rapport between two people who are in conversation."
Kelly McGonigal, lecturer, Stanford University

"When I was looking for jobs and interviewing, they'd always want me to say, 'I'm a great multitasker'. And I wouldn't. My inability to multitask was seen as a negative."
"Now I can just say: 'I am a monotasker. I am someone who works best when I focus on one thing at a time."
Jon Pack, Brooklyn photographer
There it is, the cartoon more or less delivers the message. Without giving full focus to any single task instead dividing time between tasks in a determined effort to cram as many actions as possible into the moment rather than devote time and attention to each task demanding notice in its own time, none of them is done adequately. To produce a report that has meaning and takes advantage of the writer's full attention requires monotasking, a focus on one thing only with the intention to get around to the others in due time. Even focusing on one effort will require a number of retakes.

When you can't spare undiluted time to a telephone conversation with someone, preferring to do other things during that conversation, you're telling the other person they're not important. In that diluted-attention conversation you'll miss nuances and you won't devote yourself to acknowledging issues by giving the conversation your full attention, how important you consider that person to be. If they're not important for any reason whatever, why contact them to begin with?

There are those who interpret monotasking and multitasking in a different way, observing that even if someone's attention is not fully on each of the tasks undertaken simultaneously, for the brief period that attention is given before being diverted by another task, that brief period is singularly devoted to one task before attention is switched to another, so the concept of multitasking is simply monotasking done in a haphazard, slapdash, serial back-and-forth manner; which doesn't lead to good performance.

A 2014 study in the Journal of Experimental Psychology concluded that interruptions that take place as briefly as two or three seconds produce a doubling of errors made by participants in a task assigned to their study group. The outcome of distractions is the loss of a thread of thought, resulting in a non-continuous cerebral loop, and something gets lost in the transaction, producing an incomplete or erroneous result.

An earlier research from Stanford University found self-identified "high media multitaskers" are in fact more readily distracted than those who control their time toggling between tasks to a minimum. The more you do, the less you are able to achieve. Those who find they cannot pay due attention to one function at a time without automatically switching attention to another and yet another, as they feel the situation demands of them fail the test of adequately performing any to a good conclusion.

Our brain chemistry has its limitations; too many distractions tend to confuse and cause problems. By switching between tasks we are depleting finite neural resources. And once that happens confusion sets in with mindless wandering of attention and a functional inability to address any of the tasks at hand in a creditable manner. Studies on the topic have concluded that the more distractions we allow ourselves to latch onto, the more distracted we will become, with functionality suffering.

"Practice how you listen to people. Put down anything that's in your hands and turn all of your attentional channels to the person who is talking", instructs Ms. McGonigal. It's as good a start as any.

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