Multi-tasking is a Myth

The human brain is not actually capable of doing two things at exactly the same time. Of course if you get proficient at something, you can get very good at switching quickly between two activities (to create the illusion that you are multi-tasking). A good piano player does this all the time (quickly switching his or her attention back and forth between the left and right hands.)

And a Blackberry does make it possible to be at your kid’s soccer game and wait for an important e-mail message. But don’t think for a minute that you can actually work on your Blackberry while watching the soccer game. Either you are not really watching the soccer game, not really getting anything done on your Blackberry or doing both poorly. If you play your cards right, maybe you’ll watch the game with focus until the message arrives; but then you’ll be in work mode.

Two recent articles highlight how there is no substitute for actually paying attention. One article focuses on the way computing can interrupt the healthy bonding that takes place between mothers and their babies. The other discusses how one doctor observed practitioners making a poor connection with their patients when they sat in front of a computer terminal while talking to them (scroll down to Electronic records no panacea.)

So stop checking your Blackberry when you are at a lunch meeting! You will only diminish the connection between you and your lunch date. If you are expecting an important message that will need a timely response, at least warn your companion and apologize in advance. Anything short of that is rude behavior (for those of us who still care about manners.)

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