December 17, 2007

Continuous Partial Attention

At supper, at dinner, at breakfast, in the car... whenever and wherever I'm prompted, I talk with my family about the fallacy of multitasking. Prompts are frequent: every moment our time together is interrupted by IMs or text messages, etc.

I've watched a lot of employees get four hours of work done in an 8-hour day.

I've been preaching that multitasking works only for trivial or "muscle memory" activities. Chewing gum, listening to the radio and driving, for example. Or talking on the phone, cooking dinner and keeping an eye on the kids.

But multitasking is an erroneous concept for higher functions. Changing tasks shuts down one process and boots up another process. Returning to the first process requires a reboot, or at the very least a warm reboot.

Linda Stone is the mother of the wonderfully descriptive term "continuous partial attention." Check here and here for others' perspectives on this concept.

Walter Kirn's "The Autumn of the Multitaskers" was published in the November 2007 The Atlantic Monthly. Kirn gives evidence that

"Neuroscience is confirming what we all suspect: Multitasking is dumbing us down and driving us crazy."
Matt Nickerson and Todd Petersen live this stuff daily with their students. So, Parents, check out their list. The links are must reading. And students, you check out this site. The links are must reading.