October 28, 2013


The BrainMultitasking what a wonderful skill, something we all do with varying degrees of success. I love the joy of doing it well. Second life hosting makes one quite adept with instant messaging, group and local chat. Holding the skein of many threads and responding to them all. Its like dancing in formation and indeed you dance at the same time. I also grab a tune, paste it into YouTube, grab the link paste it into my converter to mp3 and download it and no one notices coz it happens so fast. I love multitasking…maybe

Some people hate it, it seems. “When you are with me you must give me 100% of your attention or I will walk away” and they do this while multitasking themselves. Odd. Our brains, our neuronal pathways are a perfect example of multitasking. Just imagine ” Stop thinking I want to breathe” or ” I’m drinking tea stop talking and listening to music ” Ha! Bit extreme that but you catch my drift! However:

Wiki says:

Because the brain cannot fully focus when multitasking, people take longer to complete tasks and are predisposed to error. When people attempt to complete many tasks at one time, “or [alternate] rapidly between them, errors go way up and it takes far longer—often double the time or more—to get the jobs done than if they were done sequentially,” states Meyer.This is largely because “the brain is compelled to restart and refocus”. A study by Meyer and David Kieras found that in the interim between each exchange, the brain makes no progress whatsoever. Therefore, multitasking people not only perform each task less suitably, but lose time in the process…..


Oh dear so it seems multitasking is not a good thing at the awareness level?  My mother used to do it. She would read a book, knit a fairisle sweater and watch TV all at the same time cognitively processing all three at the same time. She could recall the book and TV and I ended up with a beautiful sweater.

Some research:

Treating consciousness as awareness or attention greatly underestimates it, ignoring the temporary levels of organization associated with higher intellectual function (syntax, planning, logic, music). The tasks that require consciousness tend to be the ones that demand a lot of resources. Routine tasks can be handled on the back burner but dealing with ambiguity, groping around offline, generating creative choices, and performing precision movements may temporarily require substantial allocations of neocortex………..

In Buddhism mindfulness training is where you concentrate on the action that you are performing ” In walking there is only walking, in sitting there is only sitting” I am listening to music, thinking about this post and typing at the same time. I always work to music.  However perhaps this isn’t a good thing……

I think multitasking is a fact of life these days. I think it is an evolution of the digital life we lead. I notice my cats in second life come up to me and “demand” attention to the exclusion of all else. As does my real life cat. I can attend to my cat and do other things.

Do one thing and do it well? Do several things and do them all well? Is this possible? Switching our attention very quickly from one thing to another. What I have noticed is that there is a threshold effect. The music playing in the background lifts me to a threshold of experience and I function at a “higher” level.

Clearly I am very confused.

Multitasking or not, please leave your thoughts in comments:

Meanwhile back on the ranch:

Brain Pickings advice which I don’t do coz I don’t sleep too well….

  1. Build pockets of stillness into your life. Meditate. Go for walks. Ride your bike going nowhere in particular. There is a creative purpose to daydreaming, even to boredom. The best ideas come to us when we stop actively trying to coax the muse into manifesting and let the fragments of experience float around our unconscious mind in order to click into new combinations. Without this essential stage of unconscious processing, the entire flow of the creative process is broken.

    Most importantly, sleep. Besides being the greatest creative aphrodisiac, sleep also affects our every waking moment, dictates our social rhythm, and even mediates our negative moods. Be as religious and disciplined about your sleep as you are about your work. We tend to wear our ability to get by on little sleep as some sort of badge of honor that validates our work ethic. But what it really is is a profound failure of self-respect and of priorities. What could possibly be more important than your health and your sanity, from which all else springs?

I don’t sleep very well. I have to knock myself out with drugs.

Maybe I should stop trying to multitask………………. Help please! What you think?



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  1. Name: jessika jenvieve

    Comment: Stage Managers are the ultimate multi-taskers. If you ever wondered how a live performance all knits together; the lights, sound, effects, scenery, moving trucks, stage crew, props, actors, singers, dancers, orchestra, choirs, live broadcast, recording, and much more which I expect I have forgotten, all this is controlled by the Stage Manager. This person sits to the side of the stage and controls a computerized communication desk, which gives the cues to act and react either by the use of cue lights or verbal cues. They are linked by headset to all the key operators and will have a live sound feed in one ear and a communication channel in the other. There can be up to 20 people all linked into this by radio headsets. They also follow the show either by script of score and sometimes both. They have a view of various parts of the stage/ auditorium on multiple screens and a view of the conductor. Nothing happens on stage without their command. They drive everything. They decide when the show starts and when it ends.

    This is the ultimate adrenaline rush. It is addictive and you get no applause. After 10 years as stage manager at the one of world’s major venues, I finally thought through what this level of multitasking was doing to me. Apart from spending most of your life in a low light level environment while looking into an extremely brightly lit space, the eyestrain is only one of the problems. The level of concentration required to do this job is incredible and you do it on average for 2 to 3 hours and you don’t get an interval break. The stress level that you carry is immense and is on a par with the controller of space shuttle launches.

    You make decisions and keep the show going at all costs, you make instant decisions and judgements, and they are final and no one argues with you. You alone have the whole picture and you are in total control. You are alone and responsible for an event for an event that costs huge amounts of money or can be of national importance.

    So what does it do to you, apart from put a huge strain on eyes, ears, body and nervous system? After a while you just stop feeling. Your emotions cut out. You don’t react; you remain calm and composed and just keep going. Then you burn out. You find you are unable to make a decision in the real world and you doubt any decision that you make. You are accustomed to everyone doing exactly what you tell him to without question so you are no fun to live with.

    Multi- tasking at this level is really dangerous. Sure you can still multi-task and you do for part of your everyday life, but it exhausts you. The addiction to the prolonged adrenaline never goes away and your body is always in a high state of alertness unless you really control it. It is so wonderful to do just one thing at a time.

    Time: October 30, 2013 at 1:44 am



    • pj says:

      But for us ordinary mortals, doing ordinary things, is not multitasking a boon for doing mundane tasks such as monitoring the baby, watching TV and doing the ironing. We multi-task. Perhaps it is ok in that scenario. Your old job that you did so well sounds amazing. Hope you were well paid for it. I think it just goes to show how awesome human beings are. You have to multitask in Second Life, keeping up with local chat, monitoring the dance floor and dealing with private instant messages. We switch our attention without losing the thread. I add to this the making of movies.

      So I think multitasking is great fun and extends our cognitive abilities. Stage management sounds too extreme but you are vital in helping to produce a great show which must be very satisfying.

  2. […] seen as a skill however cognitive science shows otherwise. I wrote an article on it here on my IrishSecure.com web site. This post was a response to someone posting a link to TED video Sugata Mitra Schools in the […]

  3. Hamish Macleod says:

    I wonder if you have come across the work of Clifford Nass on multitasking. Sadly Prof Nass died recently at the tragically early age of 55. His work is very much worth our attention.

    • pj says:

      Thanks Hamish, yes interesting stuff:

      “After several years of studies, Nass and other Stanford researchers came to some disturbing conclusions. They found that the heaviest multitaskers — those who invariably said they could focus like laser beams whenever they wanted — were terrible at various cognitive chores like organizing information, switching between tasks and discerning significance.

      “They’re suckers for irrelevancy,” he said. “Everything distracts them.”

      More worrisome to Nass was his finding that people who regularly jumped into four or more information streams had a tougher time concentrating on just one thing even when they weren’t multitasking. By his estimate, “the top 25%” of Stanford’s students were in that category.

      In a 2011 lecture at the university, Nass said writing samples from freshman multitaskers showed a tendency toward shorter sentences and disconnected paragraphs.

      “We see less complex ideas,” he said. “They’re living and writing in a staccato world.”

      Over the years, “most academics, including myself, kept seeing it as an aberration,” he told PBS’ “Frontline” in 2009. “You’d see someone multitasking and go, ‘Ha ha ha, those wacky college kids — OK, they’ll grow out of it.’ And then you start looking around and go, ‘Wait a minute, they’re growing into it, not out of it.’ Little kids are growing up with it. Older people are being stuck with it.”

      “We could essentially be undermining the thinking ability of our society,” he said. “We could essentially be dumbing down the world.”

      …seems to support the idea that multitasking is not a good thing. I would show off my multitasking skills in the cybercommunity of Second Life ( http://Cyberculture.co ) but now realise I was actually doing the various streams of information a disservice, not concentrating adequately on any. I have changed my behaviour now. No sense in learning stuff and not applying it is there?

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