July 16, 2013
In today's complex world when audiences are often overwhelmed with options, smart programmers should give them what they really want: ways of choosing that lower the cognitive stress. Listeners have grown accustomed to having a lot of choices, and many of them still express a strong desire for having even more options. But that doesn't make it a good idea. There are neurological limits to our listeners' ability to process information and the task of having to choose is often perceived as time-consuming and confusing, not pleasure.
Whether it's a help or a hindrance, we're all affected by technology. We're constantly hearing stories from the world of technology about the latest findings, Smartphones, tablets and new apps that will forever alter the way we live. Such is the hyperbolic language we writers fall back on when contemplating a new change or gadget. We too are time-shifters, responsible for re-tooling the edge. Time-shifters, even the ones who are multi-tasking on steroids, are affected by technology. Technology and research are what we use to re-tool.
Down Side Of Multi-Tasking
Increased multi-tasking blurs the distinction between personal and business -- especially when mobile devices enable us to always be connected to everything. We're connected to our personal lives during business hours and vice versa. There's always a mix of self-inflicted and employer-inflicted multi-tasking.
The main reason why multi-tasking is so popular today is because there is more information available to us than ever before. Even when you consider all the distractions and the fact that most of that data is useless, it's still exposing more people to more information from a wider variety of sources. That information is the raw material for making better decisions to be more productive.
While some effects of multi-tasking may seem to trend toward the negative, there are other situations where multi-taking has positive aspects. If an important business e-mail comes in while someone is watching television, they can send off a quick but helpful response very easily though they may not catch very detail. If a second task is something valuable, then even half-heartedly paying attention to it is still a net gain compared to not doing it at all.
There is new evidence that suggests we, as human beings, simply aren't designed to perform multiple tasks at once. If you're trying to do two things at once, they will take longer and not be done as carefully compared to when you did them one after the other. There are all sorts of reasons for this. An inability to actually focus on more than one thing is one reason; what we call multi-tasking is really just rapid switching focus back and forth. But it also goes right down to limits in short-term memory capacity. We just don't have enough RAM and the fact is that we only have one pair of eyes.
Some programmers we've spoken with say they multi-task because they believe it will help them finish more projects in a shorter timeframe so they can move onto something else entirely. The question isn't whether or not we should multi-task. We may not have a choice. The question is: Are we good enough at it to continue the trend?
On the other side of the coin, your employer may expect you to be able to perform multiple tasks at once, which leads to forced or employer-inflicted multi-tasking. This can occur if you need to answer phone calls, compose e-mail messages, schedule music, critique airchecks, perform data entry or take care of a variety of other tasks all at once.
It's safe to assume multi-tasking will only grow in the future ... and with a heightened level of connectivity comes higher expectations. There are many new devices designed to to give users quicker access to data, even if they are quite a bit more intrusive than our existing technology
It will be a delicate dance with human limitations in multi-tasking capability running up against the temptation to make full use of powerful mobile technology. We'll find a balance over time, more or less, but technology will continue to disrupt it. Maybe one day we'll even have the technology to upgrade our brains and overcome the limitations that make multi-tasking so inefficient right now.