Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Balancing a worrisome thought about multitasking and work capability

The Decade Google Made You Stupid - Doug Rushkoff in The Daily Beast
So what does it mean if we multitaskers are actually fooling ourselves into believing we're competent when we're not? "If multitasking is hurting their ability to do these fundamental tasks," Nass explained matter-of-factly, "life becomes difficult. Some of studies show they are worse at analytic reasoning. We are mostly shocked. They think they are great at it." We're not just stupid and vulnerable online—we simultaneously think we're invincible. And that attitude, new brain research shows, has massive carryover into real life.
I think this is worrisome for me not just because many of us may be getting sucked into this trap of believing that our multi-tasking is making us smarter when it's actually making us less capable, but because of the ramifications for a whole generation of youth whose exaggerated sense of their own capabilities might lead to very rough landings when they enter the work world. 

At the same time, I think there is a balancing idea from Dan Willingham that for some reason did not come out in my interview with him.  In Dan's book Why Don't Students Like School, chapter 1 starts with the declaration that "[p]eople are naturally curious, but we are not naturally good thinkers; unless the cognitive conditions are right, we will avoid thinking" (p. 3).  Our mind, he says, is designed to try and find patterns and habits to avoid having to think through every action we take, and therefore, even though thinking and problem-solving can be very pleasurable, it takes work to do so.

Over the course of the last couple of weeks this simple idea that "thinking is hard work" has surfaced over and over for me as I've thought about different educational topics and while spending time with my own children.  It's shifting my paradigms and it's also providing a good explanation for why I've long been convinced that there are many good paths that lead to effective education--since the act of an individual discovering for him or herself the value of going through that hard work can be precipitated in a wide variety of circumstances. 

The balance for me to Rushkoff's gloomy report on multitasking is that many of the same technological media which seem to facilitate attention distraction also have a rich potential to encourage "thinking," and by virtue of their active and participative capabilities (for example, allowing me to express my thoughts publicly about something I just read), often draw us into the pleasures of problem-solving or analytical thinking.


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