For someone who spends so much time in social media, I'm not much of a multitasker.
I tend to do one thing at a time. When I read, I read slowly and without even background music. When I write, I filter out almost every detail that is not relevant to the piece I'm working on. When I run, I don't listen to music, but pay attention to my body and the environment.
So this week's social media bash should actually make me feel pretty good. A Stanford University study declared multitaskers can't filter relevant information as well as us single taskers. This study would confirm that I am maximizing my ability to learn by focusing while you... [HEY!!! Pay attention while you are reading this] are drifting off between chat, video, music, people in the room and whatever.
Just listen to Prof. Clifford Nass, who was among those conducting the survey. He says you multitaskers are “suckers for irrelevancy. Everything distracts them.”
But wait a minute. The reason I don't multitask is that I am easily distracted. My dog visiting for a harmless head pat distracts me. And on my single task, I still have to follow down irrelevancies. When I was writing Twitterville, I followed down 50 stories that did not appear in the book. I stayed glued to the Internet during the Mumbai terror incident for over a week and ended up writing less than two pages on the subject.
The thing is that we don't know what activities, are a waste of time until we waste some time pursuing them. Then there's the converse when an apparent distraction turns out to be valuable. I thought Twitter was a simple distraction from more serious efforts when I first started. It turned out those more serious efforts were in fact the distraction.
Brian Solis, writing in PR 2.0 speculates that the study examined the wrong activity.He thinks more than searching for useful task-oriented content, the social media multitaskers are searching more for connection.
To me it's an exercise in irrelevance. For better or worse, social media is moving relentlessly forward. It's seems fashionable to write reports and opinions as to why social media, causes loneliness in the workplace or that more companies are attempting to ban it or that multitasking people pay less attention to each task. Each of these report contain some truth. None of these reports contain anything close to an overwhelming truth, from my perspective.
If you try to warn the world that social media has some negative aspects, you'll get some attention, but most of us will get distracted and move on to points that are more relevant to the tasks we give top priority.
Media may have become more distracting and fragmented. But people have always used it as background to tasks. Music, television, games, etc. Somehow people who multitask, may flunk Stanford quizzes, but my guess is that over time people adapt and get their work done in styles and environments that just suit them.
I know lots of multitaskers. My wife is astounded at how few tasks I can do at once compared to her. She seems to do hers with great skill. So do so many of the people I know in social media.
Now what was I saying?