How Multitasking Is Affecting the Way You Think with Clifford Nass


So what I want to talk about today is I think we can all agree the media use is growing. It’s an important question why? Well, the
first answer is probably obvious. There are new media all the time. Just in the
last week we’ve had Samsung announce a watch, other manufacturers coming in saying we
have watches too. We have autonomous cars that will
come out by 2020, first announcement we’ll be driving. All
these different technologies are appearing, so sure that should lead to an increase
in media use. There’s a second important trend, which is increasingly media are not just
producing one stream of information. Their producing
multiple streams. We know that computers have many windows, we know that while we’re using our phone we can surf the web. Tablets allow for more and more
functionality. Almost every device now including a watch can
give us many pieces of information at once. So
there’s one engine of change which is a technological change. Very important, but it’s not the only one.
There’s a second change, which is a change of culture in media
use. So let me give you some examples. One of the lovely things to do France, California, throughout the world is to go
to the beach. You smell the ocean breeze, you hear the lapping of the waves,you feel
the sand on your feet. How could that not but be enhanced by an IiPad. Or another example you go to a wonderful restaurant. Every
known culture organizes enormous rituals around food. Food is the time where we rarely eat alone, we eat in groups. We engage, we talk with each other, we see each other in a highly intimate
setting. And of course obviously we should have a
phone in there is well. With the third example, one of the great joys every culture knows is children at play. Their laughter, their engagement, their excitement, the raw physicality of
children playing together. How could we miss out
on that? Well in fact there’s been a fundamental
change. Media had introduce themselves into
these activities, which seemed extremely intimate and
powerful. That has very important effects. On top of that that there is a third dynamic driving the growth immediate use
and not just single media use and that’s the process a partial media displacement. Probably
one of the most important and least known theories the field of
communication. It’s very simple one at first, just what happens when the new
information product or service appears. Well I think you can all guess the first
thing that would happen it would steal time from other information activities. So movies stole time from books, radio stole time for movies, television
still time for radio the internet steals time from television, etc. A very obvious process. If that was the whole story would be a
very exciting story but what makes media so powerful, so
exciting, and so seductive is it not only did they steal time from
information activities, they also start stealing time from non
information activities. So ever since the middle stages the
Industrial Revolution, we’ve seen year-over-year growth
of media use with blips every time a new medium
appears.They would see this for 200 milliseconds
then for 100 milliseconds they’d see picture 1. Then there would be a clearing of the retina
and then you would see the second picture. So how many of you thought a red rectangle rotated? How many thought a red rectangle didn’t rotate? Well turns out a red rectangle did rotate and it turns out is what happens with the students. the students who do not multitask were
unfazed by the number of blue rectangles it was 0, 2, 4, 6 made no difference
whatsoever. But the high multitaskers got lost in the world the blue it was. There were so many
distractions and so few things to really worth paying attention to, how could they not but be seduced. So that is enormous implications and we’ll
talk about some the other effects of that. But, um, just real briefly multitaskers
too many other problems. They can pay attention even when they
want to. They are actually very poor at managing working
memory and they find it very difficult to focus on writing and they don’t even multitask very well.
Turns out people multitask all the time a worse at it than people who never do it. That made me wonder what the heck is going on?
What is their problem? Well the problem lies in the brain this is a fMRI, functional magnetic
resonance imaging scan. of high and low multitaskers, doing the task of switching from one task to
another. That little white dot in the left prefrontal cortex is what we
saw in everyone 20 years ago and what we
see in low multitaskers now. That’s a part of the brain used for
stopping decision-making, etc. Okay, the yellow is what we see among high multitaskers, the extra brainpower used by them when they are doing the
same task. That actually is the visual cortex. And
what’s remarkable about this literally these people are in a dark metal tube strapped down there, their head braced,
there’s no where to look. other than the screen. Yet they’re asked to multitask, they
immediately start scanning the environment. And as a result, do much worse in their
thinking. So this becomes a very powerful
suggestion that chronic multitasking is rewiring the brain of kids, increasingly adults, and has consequences.

11 thoughts on “How Multitasking Is Affecting the Way You Think with Clifford Nass

  • The late Prof. Nass presents results from MRI scans of students given the task of ignoring distractions. Unsurprisingly, some are good and some not. However, he states that a group shows effects not seen before, in that their MRI scans are different. Also, his hypothesis is that somehow this all is caused by changes in media availability and use.

    I have no opinion on if there really is something not seen before but I think, if there is a sudden appearance of a new effect, he failed to show convincingly that the cause is media use. Wouldn't there have to be something completely new? Further, other hypotheses like drug use, infections and, above all, education would have to be ruled out. I'm also interested in if there are independent confirmations of the effect.

  • So what does this tell us? What are our kids going to be "thinking about" during simple tasks and observations? I want to know what the consequences are!!

  • Do you know how hard it was not to multitask while watching this video about the dangers on multitasking and not check my Facebook.? Too damn hard.

  • A great and useful presentation. Especially liked his explanation of the history of partial media displacement and behaviour change since the early 1990s. RiP.

  • The most interesting part of the talk, the part where the audience was asked to do a task (i.e. determine if the red rectangles rotated) was cut from the video …too bad.

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