Friday, 27 June 2008

Net-generation naturally multitask. Those of us born before the digital age have to struggle against our natural tendency to do one thing at a time and, for this reason, are disadvantaged in terms of learning. Of course everyone has come across these clich├ęs, but, recently, to my relief, I have been reading several articles and blog posts about ‘multitasking’ and learning (The Myths of the Digital Generation, Digital Nativism - Digital Delusions and Digital Deprivation, Digital natives and immigrants: A concept beyond its best before date and Thinking: a challengeable position on learning 2.0 and the incumbent). A very recent article about this topic called The Myth of Multitasking by Christine Rosen has had the powerful effect of making me stop reading and write this post. The whole article is worth reading, but I’m copying the final words here since they express SO nicely what I’ve felt for a long time and never had the talent/wisdom to express.

For the younger generation of multitaskers, the great electronic din is an expected part of everyday life. And given what neuroscience and anecdotal evidence have shown us, this state of constant intentional self-distraction could well be of profound detriment to individual and cultural well-being. When people do their work only in the “interstices of their mind-wandering,” with crumbs of attention rationed out among many competing tasks, their culture may gain in information, but it will surely weaken in wisdom.

Perhaps I have fallen into the same trap I’ve been warning people about. Perhaps I’ve been multitasking too much, shallow-reading too much, focusing too little to be able to articulate in written words what I feel I know. George Siemens warns us, “I wonder if the criticism of multitasking isn't partly misplaced...i.e. perhaps we just have much more noise in our world today (video games, TV, podcasts, blogs, youtube) and the key task is one of knowing when to experience multiple information sources and when to focus.” But how can we tell the difference between noise and real learning opportunities when we are constantly being told that everything in life, such as chatting with friends, watching Big Brother, taking and sharing pictures, checking Twitter to find what other people are doing—huh???, etc., all represents real learning opportunities? Perhaps I’m too old to be able to decide when to give my divided attention or when to focus, unless I focus to figure that out.