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Multitasking and Writing


A recent study found that media multitaskers are actually less productive than they think.  Not only that, "heavy multitaskers" have trouble tuning out distractions and switching tasks compared with those who multitask less. And there's evidence that multitasking may weaken cognitive ability.

Dr. Clifford Nass at Stanford University, who did the study, defines a media multitasker as someone who jumps from playing a game, to checking email to writing a Word document, then back to email to googling something.

What made me rethink my writing process was this nugget: "Chronic multitaskers" have trouble with anything involving deep thought. Because they can't filter, their minds tend to be distracted and scattered, rushing into stagnant pools of irrelevant information.

As I understand it, it seems to be a problem of a mind obsessed with gathering more and more information rather than reflecting, ruminating, meditating upon one fact. Dr. Nass makes the distinction between Explorers and Exploiters, with the former foraging for more information and the latter sinking deeply.

Yikes! Such significant implications for reading and writing!

After hearing about this study on the radio (driving and listening!), I decided to cut back on checking email. It used to be I'd write for an hour, take a break, check email. Sometimes if the writing wasn't going well, I'd check every half hour. (Anything not to face that next sentence!) So now I head to the kitchen and do the dishes. Or walk outside and work in my garden. Or best of all, ride my bike. If I'm lucky, I'll hear one of my characters speak. That is, I hear what I should have written-- that bit of dialogue or the way she looked at the man sitting across from her.  And I bet none of that would have happened if I'd been busy foraging for my next fix of more irrelevant information.

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I'd say that information has

I'd say that information has replaced observation at the very basic level. Conventional multitasking is not for me. I cannot even listen to music while writing. However, Nina, I often wonder whether the mind going in different directions while doing one task - writing - would qualify as multitasking.

The positive aspect is that I always have backup ideas but it isn't comfortable while I am to focus on one thing...


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Farzana- I agree with you. I

I agree with you. I was just reading a book (doing only one thing!) trying to figure out Heidegger's philosophy. I find the parallels interesting: "For Heidegger, the modern world... represented a shallow, hyperactive spectacle that made nearly impossible the deeper engagements that give true meaning to life." (Eric D. Weitz--historian)

I can't listen to music either. It's too distracting.

In this study, the researchers focused exclusively on shifting from one media stream to another. They made a distinction between information flows and task-oriented activities.