Multitasking? Think Twice
"Serious thinking cannot be done in bursts of 20 seconds, constantly interrupted by email, facebook or twitter messages, or while you're fiddling with your iPhone"
A certain amount of multitasking is almost inevitable in modern life and, yes, low-level tasks may be successfully completed in a multitasking fashion. Creative thinking, however, cannot. It has long worried me that multitasking is engulfing the daily activities of most researchers, and indeed most people, to an extent that is highly pernicious. This section contains some articles that urge all of us into preserving safe havens where serious thinking can continue to take place.
- The battle for attention. In this essay, Talbot Brewer exposes the severe consequences of the commoditization and depletion of attention that results from the perfect storm of advertising, social media, and addiction to screens.
The linked document contains a fragment of the article, published by the Hedgehog Review in Summer 2023.
- Solitude and leadership. In this extraordinary lecture, essayist and critic William Deresiewicz warns against the dangers of multitasking, arguing that it impairs the ability to think. He further warns of the potentially poisonous consequences of getting oneself marinated in the conventional wisdom that permeates social media. Excessive exposure to such media creates a cacophony that makes it impossible to hear one's own voice and one's own unpolluted thoughts.
The linked document contains excerpts of the lecture, which was reproduced in full by The American Scholar in Spring 2010.
- Michelangelo didn't multitask. In this short doodle, Prof. Jeff Andrews offers advice to young researchers on how to sidestep the traps of excessive multitasking and constant distractions. While recognizing that drive and inspiration come largely from within, he puts forth some ideas aimed at facilitating the focus that research requires.
The writeup appeared originally in the September 2007 issue of the IEEE GOLDRush Newsletter.
- Genius: the modern view. On a matter related to the importance of concentration and undistracted effort, author David Brooks presents the modern view that genius does not so much descend from innate talent (although some measure of it is necessary) as it emerges from relentless practice and hard work.
The article was published by the New York Times in May 1st, 2009.
- Time to do everything except think. In this satirical piece, David Brooks envisions a placebo machine that would inform people that they have no messages. By breaking the addiction to data, people would be able to reflect instead of react, and to experience life instead of information.
This prescient article was published by the Daily Beast and Newsweek in 2001.
As Lucius Seneca foresaw two millenia ago, "to be everywhere is to be nowhere."
"Thinking means concentrating on one thing long enough to develop an idea about it. Concentrating means gathering yourself together into a single point rather than letting yourself be dispersed everywhere into a cloud of electronic and social input"
William Deresiewicz Lucius